A study conducted by scientists from the National University of Singapore and Britain’s Oxford Brookes University said that poor data, minimal funding and lax enforcement are undermining the fight to protect endangered species, which raises the risks from the spread of pests and diseases.
On Friday the UN said that destruction of habitats, over-hunting and climate change had already driven the extinction rate for plants and animals at its highest level since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.
More than a fifth of all mammals and nearly a third of all amphibians are threatened and at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s benchmark Red List of Threatened Species.
The study also said that the main UN convention governing trade in endangered species needed urgent reform and a boost in support from member states in order to prevent more species from being wiped out by trade, as well as to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and invasive species into new areas where they can threaten crops and livelihoods.
Lax enforcement and a lack of data on species being collected and traded were the key issues because they allowed governments either to make poor conservation decisions or corrupt officials to turn a blind eye to illicit trade.
“Data collection at all levels depends on proper species identification, which remains a leading challenge,” the scientists, including Jacob Phelps and Edward Webb of the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, say in the latest issue of the US journal Science.
“Wildlife trade studies are surprisingly few and far between,” Phelps said. “For many species – not only tigers and rhinoceros, but hardwood trees, primates and birds sold as pets and medicinal plants – wildlife trade remains a leading threat.”
The authors of the study think an overhaul is necessary for the UN’s 35-year-old Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the trade of nearly 34,000 species.
They also said that even though the secretariat that runs CITES depends on member states to provide data and enforcement, many CITES parties failed to systematically monitor and report international wildlife trade.
‘Biased analyses and misreporting’
From 2000 to 2006, more than half of documented live-animal imports into the United States were identified only by class, while only about 14 per cent were identified to species, which opens the door to potentially damaging foreign species, said the authors.
But it is not the only problem for the authors of the study, who also talk about CITES’ lack of internal and external checks and balances and the secretariat’s annual operating budget of only $5.2 million.
“CITES relies exclusively on country self-reporting, although incentives are high for biased analyses and misreporting, and most CITES-listed species occur in the tropics where governance is often weak and corruption high,” the authors said.
Poor data collection could also lead to massive underreporting of animal and plant trade.
Following a recent visit to a Thai border market along the Mekong river, Phelps pointed that a trader could sell more CITES-regulated wild orchids in a day than officially reported trade into Thailand from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar over a nine-year period.
“It is very likely that similar under-reporting is occurring for other protected species,” Webb said, pointing to the need for much greater funding, stronger collaboration, better compliance standards and improved data collection and analysis.
Two months before the publication of this study, world nations agreed on 2020 targets to save nature.
Protecting the wildlife is very important because together, species provide crucial services to mankind and economies, including clean air and clean water from forest watersheds and coral reefs and mangroves that protect coastlines.