Policy ForumConservation

Long delays in banning trade in threatened species

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Science  15 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6428, pp. 686-688
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav4013

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The harvesting of wild animals and plants for international trade affects thousands of species, and compounds ongoing extinction threats such as habitat loss and climate change (14). The loss of overexploited species can result in cascading effects that reduce overall ecosystem functioning (4, 5). The primary international framework for preventing the loss of species due to international wildlife trade is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Given that CITES aims to be as scientifically based as possible (6), we analyzed how quickly species that are identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as being threatened from trade are subsequently protected under CITES. The Red List represents an authoritative body of scientific knowledge regarding extinction risks. We find that in nearly two-thirds of the cases, the CITES process of regulating trade in threatened species lags considerably behind the IUCN identification of species in need of protection from trade. Such delay in the application of scientific knowledge to policy formulation could result in species extinctions. With signatories to CITES set to gather in May to determine which species merit protection, we suggest opportunities to improve this process.