The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2014 remains untraceable, according to a new report released by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection.
In their publication in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the researchers document merely one in three partnering to CITES countries providing any data on seizures, and also highlight the importance of having this changed.
Although the reported number of confiscated animals is staggering, the researchers warn that these are likely to be only a fraction of the actual seizures. The study found two out of three countries did not report any live wildlife seizures, despite poaching of endangered species and supplying the illicit global wildlife trade being estimated to be worth between $8-10 billion per year.
The figures have prompted calls for better reporting of seizures and what happens to confiscated live wild animals.
The ultimate fate of seized live wild animals is unknown, the researchers found. Once animals have been confiscated, national authorities must decide whether to: keep them in captivity, return them to the wild or euthanize them. CITES provides guidelines to aid this decision-making based on the conservation status and welfare needs of the animals.
However, information about the fate of these wild animals is not a formal CITES requirement and as a result, there are no official numbers on just how many were euthanized, placed in captivity or returned to the wild.
Researchers are concerned this lack of data is placing the well-being and survival of seized wildlife at risk - many wild animals could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry as they simply can't be accounted for.
University of Oxford's Professor David Macdonald, senior researcher for the study, said:
"We fear this staggering number is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a relatively small proportion of wild animals involved with illegal trade are thought to be intercepted by enforcement agencies - confiscation records were completely missing for 70% of countries Party to CITES. Given the rapidly growing global trends in illegal wildlife trade activity, it is highly unlikely that no live wildlife seizures were made on their borders.
"The records that were provided show that around 20% of all live wild animals reported as seized are currently considered to be threatened by extinction. We strongly recommend that the CITES trade database should include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals, and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade."
World Animal Protection's Dr Neil D'Cruze, lead researcher for the study, said:
"The illegal wildlife trade is a big, complex and dirty business. National authorities play a key role, facing some tough choices when they seize animals - whether they release them in the wild, place them in care in captivity or euthanize them.
"Improved data recording is critical to knowing what happens to each animal, and can help in looking at the challenges and issues enforcement agencies face in managing animals after seizure. Without this transparency, there's a real possibility that endangered species may be put back into the hands of the same criminals whom they were taken from. We need to be able to account for these wild animals.
"If we're really serious about protecting wildlife, action needs to be taken at all levels. It's unfathomable that 70% of countries recorded no seizures when we know a global, multi-billion wildlife trafficking industry is flourishing."
The findings and recommendations of this research will be presented at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 September 2016 during a side event focused on the confiscation of live wild animals organised by the Species Survival Network (SSN).
Citation: D'Cruze N, Macdonald DW (2016) A review of global trends in CITES live wildlife confiscations. Nature Conservation 15: 47-63. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.15.10005
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. For many years CITES has been among the conservation agreements with the largest membership, with 182 countries currently Parties to the Convention.
CITES WCMC trade database records are available at: http://trade.
The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), set to take place in Johannesburg from 24 September to 5 October this year at the Sandton Convention Centre.
The Species Survival Network (SSN), founded in 1992, is an international coalition of over eighty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) committed to the promotion, enhancement, and strict enforcement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Through scientific and legal research, education and advocacy, the SSN is working to prevent over-exploitation of animals and plants due to international trade.