The world is witnessing an unprecedented decline in biodiversity. Up to 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, and the current rate of species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate seen over the last 10 million years. Direct exploitation — that is, overharvesting, poaching and trafficking — has been identified as one of the main drivers of this trend.
Environmental journalists around the world continue to investigate the illegal wildlife trade, one of the most lucrative forms of transnational organized crime, with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) through ongoing and past projects:
But what of the legal trade, which is just as widespread?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meant to safeguard the world’s plants and animals from unsustainable use. Most countries are party to the treaty, which regulates the legal trade of more than 38,000 species of plants and animals.
Annually, tens of thousands of species are traded globally to supply the widespread demand for traditional medicines, food, luxury items, exotic pets, and plant cultivation — putting global biodiversity, already in crisis, under additional pressure, and driving more species toward endangerment. In addition, no international regulatory framework exists to monitor the trade of species not listed in CITES’ appendices.
To draw attention to this under-reported issue, EJN has launched a new fellowship to examine the extent to which the CITES regulatory system is meeting its mission of protecting the sustainability of wildlife. The project aims to shed light on insufficient transparency in supply chains, the lack of monitoring processes and the pressures that the legal trade itself has on the health of plant and animal species.
The CITES Legal Trade Journalism Fellowship will work in collaboration with Tracy Keeling, a UK-based environmental journalist, to produce a series of investigations into the impacts and loopholes of the legal trade of wild flora and fauna. Keeling will research and report on this topic over the next several months, delving into the challenges and solutions put forth by conservation experts and stakeholders.
The CITES treaty members gather every two or three years for a Conference of the Parties (COP) to assess progress and discuss changes to the list of species that are regulated. The last meeting, COP19, took place in Panama in November 2022. With an eye to the next edition, this fellowship also intends to inform high-level discussions among decision-makers and promote constructive, evidence-based discourse about ways to improve the CITES system.
Banner image: A Burmese python, which is included in CITES Appendix II. The species is often sold as an exotic pet, and its skin used in the manufacture of clothing and fashion accessories / Credit: Everglades National Park on Flickr.