Poor data, minimal funding and lax enforcement are undermining the fight to protect endangered species, raising the risks from the spread of pests and diseases, scientists say in a study made public on Friday. Destruction of habitats, over-hunting and climate change have already driven the extinction rate for plants and animals to the highest level since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, the United Nations says. More than a fifth of all mammals and nearly a third of all amphibians are threatened and at risk of extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's benchmark Red List of Threatened Species says.
The new study, conducted by scientists from the National University of Singapore and Britain's Oxford Brookes University, said the main U.N. convention governing trade in endangered species needed urgent reform and a boost in support from member states. This was crucial to prevent more species from being wiped out by trade but also to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and invasive species into new areas where they can threaten crops and livelihoods.
Key issues were lax enforcement and a lack of data on species being collected and traded, allowing governments either to make poor conservation decisions or corrupt officials to turn a blind eye to illicit trade. "Data collection at all levels depends on proper species identification, which remains a leading challenge," the scientists, including Jacob Phelps and Edward Webb of the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, say in the latest issue of the U.S. journal Science. "Wildlife trade studies are surprisingly few and far between," Phelps told Reuters in an email. "For many species -- not only tigers and rhinoceros, but hardwood trees, primates and birds sold as pets and medicinal plants -- wildlife trade remains a leading threat."
The authors called for an overhaul of the U.N.'s 35-year-old Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the trade of nearly 34,000 species. The authors said the secretariat that runs CITES depends on member states to provide data and enforcement. Yet many CITES parties failed to systematically monitor and report international wildlife trade, the authors say.
More than half of documented live-animal imports into the United States from 2000 to 2006 were identified only by class, while only about 14 percent were identified to species, they said, opening the door to potentially damaging foreign species. Other problems were CITES' lack of internal and external checks and balances and the secretariat's annual operating budget of only $5.2 million. "CITES relies exclusively on country self-reporting, although incentives are high for biased analyses and misreporting, and most CITES-listed species occur in the tropics where governance is often weak and corruption high," the authors say.
Poor data collection also risked massive undereporting of animal and plant trade. Phelps pointed to a recent visit to a Thai border market along the Mekong river where a trader could sell more CITES-regulated wild orchids in a day than officially reported trade into Thailand from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar over a nine-year period. "It is very likely that similar under-reporting is occurring for other protected species," Webb told Reuters in an email, pointing to the need for much greater funding, stronger collaboration, better compliance standards and improved data collection and analysis.
The study was published two months after world nations agreed on 2020 targets to save nature. Collectively, species provide crucial services to mankind and economies, such as clean air and clean water from forest watersheds and coral reefs and mangroves that protect coastlines.
David Fogarty, U.N. species convention needs urgent reform -study,Reuters, Dec. 24, 2010