However, a new study by scientists from Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund shows that in some cases, the figures for trade recorded by CITES vary wildly from records kept by the U.S. Customs Service. Their findings indicate the U.S. system for tracking endangered wildlife is failing to properly register the actual numbers of plants and animals involved.
According to the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, the CITES and U.S. Customs figures for imports and exports of certain species should be the same, but vary by as much as 5,200 percent. In all cases studied, CITES and Customs reported substantially different trade volumes for all species.
"To solve any problem, it's important to understand the problem first. Our findings suggest that we don't know as much as we must about the international wildlife trade to conserve endangered species," said Art Blundell, the study's lead author and Center for Applied Biodiversity Science fellow at Conservation International.
The study represents a groundbreaking new dimension to the debate over the regulation and trade of endangered species. Such widely divergent data suggest widespread inaccuracies in recordkeeping, and without accurate information, sound policy and financial allocation decisions become problematic, making conservation less effective.
"Scientists have long recognized that targeted exploitation of wildlife for international trade is an important cause of biodiversity loss. The question has always been 'how important?' Our findings suggest that the international wildlife trade may be a bigger threat than we've generally thought," said Mike Mascia, senior social scientist with the WWF's Conservation Science P
Contact: Tom Cohen