Conservation In Practice
Corresponding author: Neil D'Cruze ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Academic editor: Klaus Henle
© 2016 Neil D'Cruze, David W. Macdonald.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Citation: D'Cruze N, Macdonald DW (2016) Tip of an iceberg: global trends in CITES wildlife confiscations. Nature Conservation 15: 47-63. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.15.10005
We assessed the global scope and scale of confiscated live wild vertebrates using information from the annual Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) reports. These reports documented a total of 64,143 individual animals (from 359 species), confiscated by 54 countries party to CITES, between 2010 and 2014. Reptiles represented 95% of individuals seized and posed a particular management challenge during this time. From a conservation perspective, 19% of all individuals reported as seized are currently considered as “Threatened” according to the IUCN Red List and 1% are listed on CITES Appendix I. During this time period, relevant national enforcement agencies have had to effectively detect and quickly deal with illegal live shipments involving a diverse array of vertebrate species with varying psychological attributes, physiological attributes and conservation value. However, we raise pre-existing concerns that CITES records are incomplete, with no data on live seizures provided by 70% of countries party to CITES. Data on the disposal of confiscated live animals is also lacking as providing them is not currently a formal CITES requirement. This lack of information impedes the proper allocation of available resources and prevents the effective monitoring and evaluation of management outcomes. Therefore, we recommend that the management authorities improve reporting compliance, and we encourage the CITES trade database (and other associate national, regional and global databases) to include information on the disposal of all live seizures.
Animal Welfare, Conservation, Enforcement, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Seizures
Poaching of threatened species to supply the illicit global wildlife trade (IWT) is estimated to be worth between $8 and $10 billion per year (
IWT is a substantial threat to wild populations through biodiversity loss, species loss, the introduction of invasive species, irresponsible wild release of confiscated animals and disease (
In recognition of these threats, improved regulation of wildlife trade and associated enforcement action has led to an increase in the number of illegal and irregular wildlife shipments intercepted by government authorities (
In order to effectively detect, monitor and address IWT, national authorities require detailed centralized information (such as the source, date, location, species, quantity, intended destination and purpose) regarding seized shipments (
CITES is an international agreement that operates as a licensing system through which imports and exports of listed species must be authorized by Parties (
Herein, we review the annual CITES reports between 2010–2014 to examine the current extent of live wild vertebrate trade seizures with respect to the five classes of vertebrates principally involved (amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles). Specifically, we asked: (1) what taxonomic groups are being seized most frequently; (2) how many individual animals are involved; (3) what are their conservation and legislative status; and (4) where are these seizures most frequently taking place. We intend the information gathered to guide existing efforts to both conserve remaining wild populations and to safeguard the welfare of individual confiscated wild animals.
We queried the CITES trade database for all live wild animal seizures for the years 2010–2014 inclusive. Trade data on CITES live animal seizures were supplied in the form of a Comparative Tabulation Table (data collated 01 Jan 2016 — see
We specifically requested data only using the “live” trade term and the CITES source code “I” which refers to illegal trade seizure records as outlined in Notification 2002/022 (
All purpose codes outlined in Notification 2002/022 that are available to CITES Parties were used in the analysis including: captive breeding (CITES purpose code B), circus (Q), commercial (T), educational (E), personal (P), scientific (S), and zoo (Z) use (
Following the completion of this review we described tabulated categorical data using descriptive statistics, including percentages, pie charts and bar charts. We used a contingency table to test the hypothesis that the proportions of endangerment classes were similar among taxonomic groups. We used general linear models with mean separation tests using SPSS statistical software (version 22.0, IBM SPSS Statistics, New York, USA) to test for trends in numbers with year and for differences between taxa. We also tested the hypothesis that temporal trends among taxa were similar by including the interaction term between year and group. For all analyses we used the declared state of origin over exporting country if data were available and were different.
During the period 2010–2014, a total of 785 live vertebrate seizure records, comprised of both illegal and irregular shipments, were officially received by CITES according to the comparative tabulation report (Suppl. material
According to CITES trade database, reptiles were the most species-rich taxonomic class reported as live seizures, followed by birds, mammals, fish and amphibians (Fig.
Proportion of species reported as live vertebrate seizures, according to different taxonomic groups, between 2010–2014. Data source: CITES trade database.
Total numbers and proportions of individual live wild vertebrates seized, according to taxonomic group, between 2010-2014. Data Source: CITES trade database.
Within reptiles, the False Map Turtle [Graptemys pseudogeographica (23,201 individuals; 8 separate seizures)] was the species most commonly reported among live seizures (Fig.
Species commonly reported as live wild vertebrate seizures by CITES between 2010–2014. A False Map Turtle (23,201 individuals seized) B Ball Python (12,172 individuals seized) C Bosc’s Monitor (1,705 individuals seized) D Crab-Eating Macaque (482 individuals seized). Photo credit A Maxine Bradley B, C Neil D’Cruze D Jan Schmidt-Burbach (credited permission to use these images has been provided by owners).
The only non-reptile species among the ten most commonly reported species was the Crab-Eating Macaque [Macaca fasicularis (482 individuals; three seizure records)] (Fig.
A peak of 21,425 animals was seized in 2011 and the lowest number of live animals seized (n = 6,049) was reported from 2014 (Suppl. material
With regards to trade purpose, the vast majority of seized live animals (n = 60,850; 95%) were intended for commercial use according to CITES records (Suppl. material
In terms of conservation status, there was strong evidence that the proportions of different IUCN Red List categories differed among taxa (X2 = 23,304, P < 0.001, DF = 36). Overall the majority of individual animals seized belong to species currently considered as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species (n = 44,371; 69%) (Fig.
Proportion of individuals reported as live wild vertebrate seizures, according to IUCN Red List status, between 2010–2014. (IUCN Red List assessment categories: CR, critically endangered; EN, endangered; VU, vulnerable; NT, near threatened; LC, least concern; DD, data deficient; NA, not yet assessed; XX, not listed). Data source: CITES trade database.
With regards to their CITES status, overall the largest proportion of individuals belong to species that are currently listed on CITES Appendix III (n = 30,602; 48% of all individuals recorded in seizures) (Fig.
In total, 36,746 individual live animals were seized by relevant national enforcement authorities upon export and a further 27,397 individuals were seized during import (Suppl. material
Seizure data regarding live wild vertebrates confiscated between 2010–2014 were available in the CITES trade database from 54 different countries which represent 30% of all countries party to CITES. The majority of individuals were seized in the USA (90%), followed by Uzbekistan (5%), Malaysia (1%), Portugal (1%) and the United Arab Emirates (<1%). A total of 2,072 animals were reported as seized by all of the remaining 49 countries combined (Fig.
We reviewed the annual CITES reports to assess the scope and scale of live wild vertebrate trade seizures made between 2010–2014. Overall, our findings are comparable to other studies, for example
Following each of these seizures, the relevant CITES Management authorities were expected to have dealt with these confiscated live wild vertebrates in a humane manner that maximized their conservation value and that did not promote further unsustainable illegal wildlife trade (
Overall, the largest proportion of live wild vertebrates seized between 2010–2014 involved species that are currently considered to be of relatively low risk of extinction. Specifically, 69% of all individuals reported are currently considered as “Least Concern” according to the IUCN Red List and 48% are listed on CITES Appendix III. As such, the majority of individuals seized during this time do not appear to be of immediate conservation concern. However, it is important to note that IWT is recognised to be a big and burgeoning business (
A far smaller proportion of live wild vertebrates seized between 2010–2014 involved species that are currently considered to be of relatively high risk of extinction. Specifically, only 19% of all individuals reported as seized are currently considered as “Threatened” according to the IUCN Red List and only 1% are listed on CITES Appendix I. However, despite the relatively small number of individuals involved, the impact of this IWT on remaining wild populations and the conservation value of these “Threatened” wild animals should not be underestimated. For example, the poaching of even a small number of “Critically Endangered” individuals could prove catastrophic for remaining wild populations. Similarly, the incorporation of these confiscated live animals into official wild release programmes could help to safe guard their future survival if managed properly (
It should be noted that agency efforts to return confiscated live animals of high conservation status back into the wild may have been hampered by the fact that 59% of “Threatened” individuals seized (2010–2014) took place during import rather than upon export (Suppl. material
From an animal welfare perspective, each of the 64,143 individual live wild animals seized between 2010–2014 will have posed a management issue for the agencies involved. In terms of sheer numbers, it appears that illegally traded reptiles (95% of all live wild vertebrates reported as seized) were a particular challenge during this time period. However, it is important to note that even the species seized in far fewer numbers (e.g. primates) could have proved equally, if not more problematic during confiscation and disposal in this regard (e.g.
Historically, decisions on the disposal of confiscated live animals have been influenced by the perception that returning them to the wild is the optimal solution for animal welfare and conservation (
Using seizure records to assess the actual amount of IWT and associated enforcement effort taking place over a given time period is hindered by the fact that not all illegal transactions are seized and not all seizures are recorded officially (Underwood et al. 2013). This is because efforts to control and report on IWT can vary between countries depending on a variety of factors including political will, available resources, levels of corruption (
In particular, poor reporting compliance has already been identified as an on-going issue of concern associated with the CITES trade database (UNEP CITES 2014;
Another specific issue of concern is the fact that CITES does not require Parties to formally record any information regarding the disposal of confiscated live wild animals. This lack of information impedes the monitoring, evaluation and improvement of any disposal decisions taken which could be jeopardizing both animal welfare and the survival of remaining wild populations. As a case in point, currently it is not possible to establish how many seized wild animals have re-entered commercial trade even though this option is only recommended in certain circumstances where “there are no concerns that sale will stimulate further illegal or irregular trade” and “qualified buyers exist” (
Our study raises pre-existing concerns that information regarding the actual number of live wild vertebrates seized by CITES Management authorities each year is incomplete. Furthermore, where seizure records do exist, information regarding the ultimate fate of these wild animals is not currently documented in the CITES trade database. To address this issue, we recommended that the relevant Management authorities improve reporting compliance and that CITES strengthens its trade database in continued collaboration other associated national, regional and global data management platforms (
Key challenges and management recommendations for the effective seizure and disposal of live animals seized by CITES authorities.
|Legislative and regulatory measures||Non-existent national action plans for effective seizure and disposal of live CITES seizures||Each Party develops a plan of action to be executed following live CITES seizures|
|Incomplete understanding of which na- tional agencies are responsible for effective seizure and disposal of live CITES seizures||Each Party identifies (in CITES directory) national agencies with authority to act on disposal of live CITES seizures|
|National and international law enforcement||National enforcement agencies lack the financial resources for effective seizure and disposal of live CITES seizures||Criminal actors bear the financial costs for disposal of live animal CITES seizures|
|National enforcement agencies lack the skilled staff for effective seizure and disposal of live CITES seizures||Each Party provides formal training for staff involved in the seizure and disposal of live CITES seizures|
|Trade data recording and analysis||Incomplete national CITES WCMC trade database live seizure records||Strengthen existing CITES WCMC international data management platforms|
|Non-existent national live disposal records in CITES WCMC trade database||Strengthen CITES WCMC data management platform to include data on disposal of live CITES seizures|
|Consumer demand reduction||Growing international demand for illegally traded live wild animals||Initiate new international behaviour change focused interventions|
|Sustained domestic demand for illegally traded live wild animals||Strengthen existing national behaviour change focused interventions|
Enforcement agencies must also have the financial resources needed to effectively seize live IWT (
The two primary legal instruments used to address unsustainable exploitation of wildlife are out-right bans [e.g. the European Union “blanket” ban on the import of captive live birds (BBC 2005)] and conditional allowances permitting limited trade [e.g. (international trade in CITES listed species)] (
We gratefully acknowledge the input of Margaret Balaskas, Gemma Carder, Paul Johnson, Mark Jones, Staci McLennan, Chris Newman, Kate Nustedt, and Jessica Wood in the preparation of this manuscript. We would like to thank World Animal Protection for providing funding for this study.