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