Science

Global wildlife trade ‘is causing 60% fall in species abundance’

The international wildlife trade is causing more than a 60 per cent fall in species abundance, a new study reveals.  

An international team of researchers, including experts from the University of Sheffield, performed a ‘meta-analysis’ of the wildlife trade from 31 studies. 

They found a 62 per cent fall in species abundance overall, as well as an 80 per cent decline in abundance specifically for endangered species, due to both legal and illegal trade. 

There was also even declines as high as 56 per cent in protected areas, according to the experts, who say current protective measures fail animal species in the wild.

Unsustainable harvesting, including hunting, trapping, fishing and logging – which often occurs in protected areas – is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity.  

100 million plants and animals are internationally trafficked each year to sell as pets, traditional medicines, bushmeat or luxury items, such as ivory from elephants, which is still traded despite a ban more than 30 years ago. 

Intensive extraction of species from their habitat and trade is a prominent driver of extinction risk and a global threat to species. This is demonstrated by the ivory-fuelled declines of African elephants. Pictured, an African elephant (Loxodonta africana) feeding from a tree

Intensive extraction of species from their habitat and trade is a prominent driver of extinction risk and a global threat to species. This is demonstrated by the ivory-fuelled declines of African elephants. Pictured, an African elephant (Loxodonta africana) feeding from a tree

IS THE IVORY TRADE BANNED? 

Trade of elephant ivory (pictured) is illegal

Trade of elephant ivory (pictured) is illegal

Trade of elephant ivory (pictured) is illegal

In a landmark decision, the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed an unprecedented international ban on the trade of ivory on October 17, 1989.

While unrestricted international commercial trade in ‘new’ ivory is banned (CITES 1989), many countries continue to allow some form of commercial trade in ivory within and across their borders. 

Increasingly, these domestic markets are being recognised as significant drivers of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. 

Source: BornFree.org

The international wildlife trade is worth somewhere between $4 billion and $20 billion per year, according to a previous report from Global Financial Integrity.   

The study has been conducted by experts at the University of Sheffield, the University of Florida, and Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

‘Thousands of species are traded for pets, traditional medicines, and luxury foods, but how this impacts species’ abundances in the wild was unknown,’ said Professor David Edwards at the University of Sheffield.

‘Our research draws together high-quality field studies to reveal a shocking reduction in most traded species, driving many locally extinct.’

Animals threatened by unsustainable harvesting, trapping and hunting include elephants and rhinoceros, but also thousands of other less well-known species, including birds, amphibians, reptiles, plants and invertebrates. 

For example, the helmeted hornbill from southeast Asia a bird heavily hunted for its remarkable beak, which is carved for decoration or used in traditional medicine. 

And the dama gazelle of North Africa is threatened by uncontrolled hunting for its meat and horns.  

Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns are giving poachers ‘free rein’ to hunt protected species, the Wildlife Conservation Charity previously said, often using homemade traps. 

‘Trapping drives particularly severe declines in species at high risk of extinction and those traded for pets,’ said Professor Edwards. 

‘Such high levels of offtake suggests trade is often unsustainable, yet a lot of trade is conducted legally. 

The helmeted hornbill (pictured) from southeast Asia a bird heavily hunted for its remarkable beak, which is carved for decoration or used in traditional medicine

The helmeted hornbill (pictured) from southeast Asia a bird heavily hunted for its remarkable beak, which is carved for decoration or used in traditional medicine

The helmeted hornbill (pictured) from southeast Asia a bird heavily hunted for its remarkable beak, which is carved for decoration or used in traditional medicine

‘As a society, we urgently need to reflect upon our desire for exotic pets and the efficacy of legal frameworks designed to prevent species declines.’ 

Notable examples of how trade impacts species are the decline of African elephants due to the illegal ivory trade and the demise of pangolin species across Africa and Asia, according to the team. 

But there’s a lack of research on the impact of trade compared to other key drivers of extinction like deforestation and overhunting. 

To learn more, researchers looked at 31 papers that examined wildlife populations in areas where there was ‘extraction’ of species for trade, compared with areas with no extraction. 

Overall, the papers looked at individuals from 133 species – 99 mammal, 24 bird and 10 reptile. 

The researchers then assessed the impact that a variety of factors might be having on the 133 species, ranging from the demand for trade to how far they lived from human settlements and whether they existed in protected or unprotected areas. 

‘From these 31 studies we extracted just over 500 effect sizes and overall we found that where extraction for trade occurred species declined by 62 per cent,’ said study author Oscar Morton, also at the University of Sheffield. 

‘Of trade purposes we found declines were steeper for the pet trade than the bushmeat trade and really little evidence at all of the abundance impacts of other purposes.’ 

Endangered species at particular risk of decline include spider monkey species Ateles belzebuth and Ateles chamek, as well as Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii). 

Baird's Tapir, pictured here in Cloud Forest, Costa Rica. The unusual-looking animal inhabits forests and wetlands from Mexico to Colombia

Baird's Tapir, pictured here in Cloud Forest, Costa Rica. The unusual-looking animal inhabits forests and wetlands from Mexico to Colombia

Baird’s Tapir, pictured here in Cloud Forest, Costa Rica. The unusual-looking animal inhabits forests and wetlands from Mexico to Colombia

‘Where extraction for wildlife trade occurs we found large declines in species abundances,’ said Morton.

‘This highlights the key role global wildlife trade plays in species extinction risk. Without effective management such trade will continue to threaten wildlife.’   

An understanding of how wildlife trade is impacting species is severely lacking in developed nations, the team also found. 

The meta-analysis was focused mainly on areas in central Africa and South America, as the team uncovered ‘concerningly limited data’ on the impacts of wildlife trade in Asia, North America and Europe, Morton said. 

There was also a lack of data for many amphibians, invertebrates, cacti and orchids, despite these groups often being traded.   

The study has been published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Coronavirus lockdown leads to a spike in poaching of critically endangered birds, tigers and rhinos as people in rural Asian communities hunt to supplement lost income 

Dead birds and the remnants of poison recovered from the site in Cambodia. In the single poisoning event of April 9, between 1-2 per cent of the global giant ibis population was lost

Dead birds and the remnants of poison recovered from the site in Cambodia. In the single poisoning event of April 9, between 1-2 per cent of the global giant ibis population was lost

Dead birds and the remnants of poison recovered from the site in Cambodia. In the single poisoning event of April 9, between 1-2 per cent of the global giant ibis population was lost

The coronavirus pandemic is fuelling an increase in poaching in Asia, a wildlife charity has warned.

COVID-19 and the associated lockdown is giving poachers ‘free rein’ to hunt protected species, according to the Wildlife Conservation Charity, a US-based non-profit with plots around the world.

In particular, three critically endangered giant ibis have been killed in a protected area in a single poisoning event in the last week.

The loss of just three of the great ibis, which is Cambodia’s national bird, has reduced the species’ global population by at least 1 per cent, the charity has said.

Desperate poachers have poisoned the bird’s waterholes in an attempt to steal their meat, which would either have been eaten locally or sold on the black market.

Not only does this bring the creature closer to extinction, but such illegal acts damage local communities that rely on the bird for tourism and economic boosts.

‘Suddenly rural people have little to turn to but natural resources and we’re already seeing a spike in poaching,’ said Colin Poole, WCS regional director for Greater Mekong in Southeast Asia. 

‘The continued commitment of conservationists to local people in rural areas across the region is more important than ever right now, as they have no safety net and are alone on the front line, the first and last line of defence for the forests and wildlife in and around their communities.’

Read more:  Coronavirus lockdown leads to a spike in poaching in Cambodia


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