The species threatened by humans have to wait two decades to protect them from international traffic. A study with a thousand animals and plants in danger of extinction also shows that a third are not even protected by the convention that forces countries to monitor and fight the wildlife trade. In much less time some species have been brought to the brink of extinction.
Everything that science knows about the state of conservation of a species ends up in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The list includes the population that remains and its geographical distribution. It also includes the threats that haunt it, from deforestation to the different human appetites for their flesh, skins, horns… Finally, it relates the conservation measures that are being taken. With all this, the Red List catalogs wildlife in seven states, from the least to the extinct. The threatened ones classify them as vulnerable, in danger of extinction or in critical danger of extinction, depending on how extreme their situation is.
But the Red List warns, does not protect. That is the responsibility of national legislation and, in particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Started in 1973 and to which almost all the countries of the world have adhered, this convention regulates the traffic of wildlife. Depending on the degree of threat they are in, they enter one of the three CITES appendices . Appendix I, for example, prohibits, except for severe exceptions, the traffic of specimens of the most compromised species. Prohibition affects the living being and any part or derivative of it, from skins to potions made with its bones. Operations such as the one developed this week in Alicante, with the seizure of lions, rhinoceroses and specimens of other protected protected species, are made under the protection of CITES.
The problem is that the communication between the Red List and CITES is not as fluid as it should be. Almost one third of the species that appear on the Red List as threatened by human pressure are not yet protected by CITES, according to the study just published in Science. The work, with 958 species included in one of the three IUCN threat categories, shows that the average lapse between this cataloging and protection against international traffic is 10.3 years. But in a hundred of them, the time lengthens until the 15 years and in 58 species arrives at the 19 years.
"New trends in the wildlife trade can emerge in a very short time, with some species going from being common to almost extinction," warns the professor at the University of Chicago (USA) and co-author of the research. Eyal Frank. The problem is repeated in the opposite direction: 353 species were included earlier in the CITES appendices than in the Red List. In fact, IUCN takes an average of 19.8 years to catalog a species that is already protected by CITES.
There are large mammals like the banteng that are on the Red List of the threatened ones that are not protected against international traffic
This is the case of the helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil), a bird that can reach two meters and that previously flew over all the jungles of Southeast Asia. Although it appears in Appendix I of CITES since this binding agreement entered into force in 1975, in 2012 it did not appear on the Red List as threatened (minor concern). But in 2015 it was already cataloged as in critical danger of extinction.
"The helmet hornbill has a big, hard helmet, like a hump, on its beak and head. [los machos] participate in fair air during the time of heat colliding against each other, "says the ecologist at Princeton University (USA) and co-author of the study David Wilcove. This hump is the bane of the hornbill. Composed of keratin, for the Chinese it is a species of red ivory and it is paid for the helmet of a hornbill up to 3,000 dollars (about 2,660 euros) on the black market. "Scientists think that this bird is being hunted at a rate much higher than its population can sustain," adds Wilcove.
In the opposite situation is the banteng (Bos javanicus), a bovine species, also from Southeast Asia. There are only between 4,000 and 8,000 copies and it appears as threatened in the Red List. However, it does not yet have CITES protection against international traffic. "We do not have an explanation as to why it takes so long." In our work, we describe these frictions and delays but, given the lack of data, we can not verify the causes of such long delays, "laments Frank. What they do in their conclusions is to propose that an almost automatic process be implemented to vote on issues related to the trafficking of endangered species and that what is decided in IUCN is adopted in CITES and vice versa.
For the researcher Gerardo Ceballos, of the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the work highlights the lag of years between a species is considered to be at risk of extinction and to be included in international treaties of species trafficking. "On average more than 10 years, this obviously becomes a severe problem for the survival of the species," says Ceballos, who is not related to the study. For him, the crisis of the loss of species and current populations is of such proportions that they call it the annihilation of nature. "The current extinction rates of vertebrates are up to 100 times higher than the rates in the last two million years.The species that we lost in 100 years should have been lost up to 10,000 years," says the Mexican scientist. For this reason he believes it is urgent to "improve the procedures to include species in CITES".
The CITES Secretariat has had the opportunity to read the study. After remembering that IUCN and CITES are very different organisms, he insists that there is a close collaboration, to the point that the first one works as one of the main technical advises of the second. In addition, the 18th Conference of the Parties to CITES will be held in Sri Lanka at the end of May. "And, among many other issues, will be discussed and decided on 57 proposals to change the lists of species whose international trade regulates, some of them refer to the species mentioned by Frank and Wilcove in the magazine Science"says the Secretary General of CITES, Ivonne Higuero" However, most of the time of the Conference of the Parties will be devoted to addressing the ways in which the Convention can be implemented and applied more effectively in the field ", Add.