Mar 26

A man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle over 10% of one of the world’s most endangered tortoise populations into Thailand just a day after the conclusion of a CITES meeting where delegates resolved to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade.

Ploughshare tortoise

The Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoise is threatened largely by habitat loss.

Two wildlife smugglers have been arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, for attempting to bring 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) illegally into the country. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and occur only in Madagascar. Wrapped up alive and hidden in suitcases, the tortoises were flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi.

Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented, “The criminals behind this shipment of ploughshare tortoises have effectively stolen over 10 percent of the estimated population in the wild.”

Radiated tortoise

The radiated tortoise is prized for its beauty and is in high demand in the illegal pet trade.

The beautiful appearance and rarity of these species has driven their demand in the black market pet trade. Both species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. The radiated tortoise has suffered an immense decline in numbers due to habitat loss, hunting and collection for the pet trade, and is at risk from extinction within the century if further conservation action is not taken.

The 38-year-old Thai man was arrested as he attempted to collect the suitcases from the baggage carousel. However, the bags were registered to a Malagasy woman who was also arrested on site. The same man was arrested earlier in the year on a similar smuggling charge. Both felons are to face charges in Thailand.

We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two. Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers,” said Shepherd.

Black pond turtle

Black pond turtles seized earlier in the day are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The seizure was made hours after 300 Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and 10 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were found in abandoned luggage at the same airport. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, Indian star tortoises are protected within their range (India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), from which commercial export has been banned due to the high demand for this species in the pet trade. Black pond turtles are listed on CITES Appendix I.

Thailand seized over 4,300 tortoises and freshwater turtles between 2010 and 2012, and half of these were Indian star tortoises. The Conference of the Parties meeting saw a decision by delegates from Thailand and Madagascar to cooperate in an attempt to control wildlife smuggling between the two countries.

Illegally traded green turtles

Greater international cooperation is needed to fight the illegal trade in wildlife.

We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals,” Shepherd concluded.

The seized animals are currently being held in the Bang Pra Breeding Centre, a government rescue centre in Chonburi, Thailand. It is hoped that they will soon be able to be returned to Madagascar, where conditions and climate are more suitable for their survival.


Read more on this story at The Guardian – Over 10% of a single tortoise species’ population found in smuggler’s bag and TRAFFIC – Largest seizure of Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoises made in Thailand.

Read more about the ploughshare tortoise, radiated tortoise, and the black pond turtle on ARKive.


Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 13

Many species of endangered tropical trees will be given greater protection after delegates at the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand voted on new restrictions on trade.

Photo of leaves of Thailand rosewood

The Thailand rosewood is just one of the species that has been given new protection

Delegates at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties agreed to give extra protection to species of rosewood and ebony that are seriously threatened by illegal logging. The new restrictions will involve listing these trees on Appendix II of CITES, meaning exports and imports should be carefully controlled. The listing covers many species from South America and Southeast Asia, as well as all of Madagascar’s ebony and rosewood trees.

There are 80 ebony species known in Madagascar but they are literally identifying more right now and there may be as many as 240 species in all,” said Noel McGough of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, one of the members of the UK delegation at the conference.

The restrictions will also cover species such as the Brazilian rosewood and the Thailand rosewood.

Illegal timber trade

The illegal trade in timber is estimated to be worth around $30 billion each year, with rosewood and ebony being in great demand for high-end products such as luxury furniture and musical instruments. Illegal logging of these species is being fuelled by increasing demand from China, with trees such as the Thailand rosewood sometimes selling for up to a staggering $50,000 per cubic metre.

Speaking about the listing of Thailand rosewood, Faith Doherty of the Environmental Investigation Agency said, “With this listing, the consumer markets will need to work with Thailand and the range states of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to ensure [Thailand] Rosewood is actually protected, especially as there is a logging ban in Thailand. Finally, we have a legal tool to use in China, the main destination and where rosewood prices on the black market are spurring a flood of smuggling and associated violence.”

Photo of Dalbergia xerophila leaves and seed pods

Dalbergia xerophila, an Endangered Madagascan rosewood species

Many ebony products from Madagascar also end up in China. Despite a ban on exports, Madagascar is experiencing an illegal logging crisis, putting the country’s already threatened forests and wildlife under even more pressure. The new trade restrictions mean that exporting countries now have a legal obligation to ensure that the level of logging is not detrimental to the survival of the listed species, and trade sanctions can be imposed on any country that over-exports them.

Fighting crime

The illegal logging trade is thought to be worth up to $100 billion each year, and also accounts for 15 to 30 percent of all deforestation in tropical regions. The illegal trade not only devastates forests, but also impacts upon local people, robs governments of important tax revenue, and is associated with violence and other crimes such as human trafficking, drugs and weapons sales.

Regulating the international trade will give the chance to feed money back to the poor local communities,” said Noel McGough. “Illegal trade just drains money away from them.”

Photo of Diospyros mun mature tree

Like many related species, the ebony tree Diospyros mun is threatened by high demand for its timber

Greater protection welcomed

Campaigners have welcomed the greater protection for these tropical trees, which stands in contrast to the slow pace of progress in tackling ivory poaching and other trade issues.

Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said, “I think it is exciting to see that CITES is being brave enough in the face of very persuasive commercial operations to address tree species. Everybody now recognises that there is a serious crisis out there – the demand side of the equation has to be addressed and the only way of doing that is to put these species on Appendix II.”

The fight against illegal logging has been strengthened in recent years, and in the United States, Australia and the EU it is a crime to import or sell any wood products made from illegally logged timber. The new protection for ebony and rosewood species is a further step forward in the battle to save these highly threatened trees from extinction.


Read more on this story at BBC News, Mongabay and The Guardian.

View photos of ebony and rosewood species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 6

As the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties continues, the USA and Russia have come together in an attempt to ban export trade in polar bear products.

Male polar bear

Canada is home to three-quarters of the remaining polar bear population

Polar bear trade

In a bid to provide polar bears with the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the American-Russian proposal calls for a ban on any international commercial trade of skin, fur, fangs and other products made from polar bears.

A similar proposal made in 2010 by the USA was voted against by both Russia and Norway. However, since then Russia has reversed its stance on polar bear conservation and is now highly vocal in support of its protection. Voting on this proposal, thought to happen later today or tomorrow, will be one of the key votes of the entire conference.

The USA and Russia argue that the trade in polar bear products is entirely unsustainable, calling on evidence that predicts a two-third decline in the polar bear population by the middle of this century.  However, the proposal has had a frosty welcome from Canada, which is home to approximately three-quarters of the world’s polar bear population.

Polar bears on the ice

Hunting and trade of polar bears will be illegal if the American-Russian proposal is accepted

Insufficient evidence

Canada, which is the only country to currently allow the export of polar bear products, argues against the evidence, claiming that it is “insufficient”. They state that Canadian Inuit communities rely on hunting and trading in polar bears to survive and that it is deeply embedded in their culture. The Canadian delegates also dispute the declared impact of melting ice on polar bears, labelling it as “uncertain”. These claims are puzzling as it is widely known that polar bears depend on sufficient ice cover to hunt seals.

If the American-Russian proposal is accepted, the Inuit people will still be able to hunt for polar bears, as stated in Canada’s domestic law. The restrictions will apply to exporting skins and other parts which will no longer be permitted under the new laws.

Polar bear jumping between ice floes

Polar bears rely on sea ice to be able to hunt for seals

Polar bear plight

 Despite polar bear hunting being prohibited in Russia, it is estimated that nearly 200 individuals are poached there every year. The pelt and other parts of these bears are sold with false Canadian documentation that allows them to enter the trade markets. If the proposed laws were to be passed, these certificates would become void, thereby putting an end to this problem.

As polar bears become rarer, the fear is that demand for their skins will increase and therefore they will become more valuable. This in turn drives the hunters who can fetch more for their catch, and the ugly cycle continues.

Only five countries are home to the polar bear: the USA, Canada, Norway, Russia and Greenland (represented by Denmark). With Russia and the USA on one side, and Canada and Greenland on the other, it would seem that the polar bear’s fate lies in the hands of the Norwegians who have yet to publicly announce their alliance.


Read more on this story at The Guardian – US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear and The New York Times – U.S. and Russia team up in a bid polar bears.

View photos and videos of the polar bear on ARKive.

Read more about polar bears on our Polar Bear Day Blog.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 4

The most accurate assessment yet of the consequences of commercial shark fishing estimates that around 100 million sharks are killed every year.

shark killed by fishermen, lying on beach

shark killed by fishermen, lying on beach

Shark warning

Ahead of the 16th meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species that runs from the 3rd to the 15th of March this year, researchers are again warning that sharks are in need of better protection. A new report, published in the journal Marine Policy, estimates the annual number of sharks killed by commercial fishing to be around 100 million, although the actual number could be anywhere between 63 million and 273 million.

The large range in these estimates is due to the poor quality of data available. However, the median estimate of 100 million is by far the most accurate to date. It is extremely difficult to gauge the actual level of shark fishing globally as many sharks are killed at sea and their bodies discarded without being included in official reports.

Oceanic whitetip shark

The oceanic whitetip shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and its fins are highly prized in international trade

Unsustainable exploitation

Commercial shark fishing is driven mainly by high demand for shark fin soup which is considered to be a delicacy in Asia. Sharks are often ‘finned’, which means their fins are removed, and the dead carcasses discarded at sea. However, they are also killed for sale of their meat, liver oil, cartilage and other body parts.

Although a ban on shark finning is in place in the European Union, Canada and the USA, it has not had the desired effect in terms of protecting vulnerable shark species. Fisheries have responded to the ban by no longer finning sharks at sea, instead keeping the carcasses, other parts of which can also be sold. The number of sharks killed has barely changed, the root cause of the problem has yet to be solved, and finning is still widely unregulated in many parts of the world.

The current rates of exploitation are vastly unsustainable and a number of vulnerable shark species are in decline. Sharks are slow to grow and reproduce; Boris Worm, one of the report’s authors from Dalhousie University in Halifax, says, “Biologically, sharks simply can’t keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species in our lifetime.”

Severed shark fins on boat deck

Dead sharks are often discarded back into the sea once their fins have been removed

Calls for increased protection

Previous attempts to increase the protection of some species of shark have failed, but scientists are hopeful that this time increased trade controls will be introduced for species such as porbeagle, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks. Proposals at this year’s CITES meeting suggest the listing of five shark species on Appendix II of the Convention, including three species of hammerhead shark, which would mean that international trade in these species should be carefully regulated.

Elizabeth Wilson, Manager of conservation charity Pew Environment says, “A simple vote ‘yes’ to support their listing could turn things around for some of the world’s most threatened shark species. Countries should seize this opportunity to protect these top predators from extinction.

Scalloped hammerhead shark

Proposals suggest increased trade restrictions on five shark species, three of which are hammerheads

The number of sharks caught between 2000 and 2010 has not changed significantly, and as a result there are fears that some shark populations will crash as commercial fisheries continue to meet demands. Trade in manta ray species is also increasing, which has led to a decline in the numbers being recorded and is also having an effect on the tourism industry. Divers pay large sums of money to view manta rays in the wild, and their decline could have massive impacts on the tourist industry in places such as Mozambique, where there has already been an 86% decline in manta rays.

Reef manta ray

Trade has increased in manta ray species, causing population decline

We want to see better protection for sharks and will be pushing for this strongly at CITES next week. I am keen to see trade controls introduced for vulnerable and endangered species like porbeagle, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays,” says the UK environment minister, Richard Benyon.


 Read more on this story at BBC – Shark kills number 100 million annually, research says, and The Guardian – 100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists


View photos and videos of porbeagle, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks on ARKive.


Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Aug 22

The UK has secured an international agreement to clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is now in such high demand that it is being sold for more than diamonds, gold and cocaine.

Photo of southern white rhinoceros eating grass

Southern white rhinoceros

“Conservation crisis”

With myths about its medicinal properties fuelling high demand in Asia, rhino horn is now worth over £50,000, or $82,400, a kilo. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horns in countries such as South Africa, in what conservationists have called a “poaching crisis”.

The new agreement, reached at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, will involve countries and conservation groups sharing policing techniques and working on awareness campaigns. The UK will also lead global talks to fight the myths about the medicinal properties of rhino horn.

Photo of confiscated black rhinoceros' horns

Confiscated black rhinoceros horns

The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, described the illegal trade in rhino horns as “cruel and archaic”.

Criminals trading in rhino horn have lined their pockets while bringing this magnificent animal to the brink of extinction, but their days are now numbered,” she said.

We will be leading global action to clamp down on this cruel and archaic trade, and to dispel the myths peddled to vulnerable people that drive demand for rhino products.”

Photo of mutilated Indian rhinoceros

Mutilated Indian rhinoceros with its horn removed

Tighter export rules

Last year, after detecting a rise in the number of rhino horn products being sold through auction houses in Britain, the UK’s Animal Health agency warned that it would be refusing almost all applications to export rhino horn items.

The tighter rules come amid fears that the legal export of “worked items”, created and acquired before 1947, is being used to send rhino horn to Asia to be powdered down and used in the medicine trade. This could further increase the demand for illegally poached horns.

Under the new rules, export licences for rhino horn products will only be granted under special circumstances.

Photo of black rhinoceros feeding

Black rhinoceros feeding

As part of the clamp down on the illegal trade in rhino horns, the UK will also be supporting a workshop in South Africa in September, to help develop better co-operation between countries where rhinos are poached and the countries where the horns are sold.

Read the BBC News story – UK to lead international rhino horn clampdown.

View photos and videos of rhinoceros species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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