Species at a Crossroads: Blogging from CITES 2016

Addressing Threats to Latin American Species at CITES CoP17

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Costa Rican toucan. Credit: Adrian Reuter.

By Adrian Reuter
September 26, 2016

[NOTE: This is the first in a series of blogs by WCS conservationists attending the 17th meeting of the (CoP 17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).]

While Latin America covers only 16 percent of the globe it is home to 40 percent of the world’s biodiversity, making it the most bio-diverse region in the world. Existing species are illegally harvested and traded to meet national and international demand, making them a prime target for illegal wildlife trafficking.

Here in Johannesburg, CITES CoP17 is addressing the crisis generated by unsustainable and illegal trade and trafficking of species such as elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species in their respective landscapes. It is important, though, that attention also be paid the rich biodiversity of regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean — largely dependent on natural resources for their economies and peoples’ livelihoods — before it is too late.

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Poison arrow frog. Credit: Adrian Reuter.

Many countries in Latin America are both important exporters of specimens of wild origin and active importers and re-exporters of individual animals, along with their parts and derivatives. This illegal trafficking has become a common occurrence that hinders conservation and sustainable management efforts across the region.

The threats of wildlife trafficking impact not only the species involved, but also existing biodiversity and human livelihoods through potential introduction of diseases and/or invasive species. In addition, an increasing interest in certain species from the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region by markets in Asia and other parts of the world poses an expanding challenge to authorities.

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Swim bladders of the endangered totoaba fish, found only in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, have become highly sought after by smugglers for their supposed medicinal value. Credit: Adrian Reuter.

These species include sea cucumbers; ornamental freshwater rays and fishes from the Amazon; vicuna and guanaco fibers from the Andes; totoaba bladders from Mexico; and numerous amphibians and reptiles for the pet trade such as poison arrow frogs or Abronia lizards for North American and European collectors.

Over the next two weeks, we will be discussing proposals to regulate international trade on species originating in Latin America such as rosewood, Abronia lizards, sharks, and rays, among others. It is vitally important to ensure that these decisions are taken based on best available data so that species are traded in this region only when such trade is based on long-term sustainability criteria.

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Adrian Reuter is Latin America Regional Wildlife Trafficking Coordinator for (Wildlife Conservation Society).

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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