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Trade bans: a perfect storm for poaching?

By Kirsten Conrad. Originally published on Tropical Conservation Science.


Since CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) ratification 40 years ago, trade bans have emerged as a principle conservation tool for endangered species. While trade bans have been successful in helping to stabilize populations of certain species, evidence for others suggests that such bans are proving less effective. Looking at three species, the author identifies and explores a conflux of forces that, in the context of a trade ban, may result in an increase of illegal trade, further threatening a species already at risk. These forces include 1) inelastic demand and high profit potential, 2) long history of trade, both legal and illegal, coupled with strong cultural affiliation, 3) ambiguous property rights, 4) negative economic incentives for conservation due to human-animal conflict, and 5) inadequate enforcement. Termed a “Perfect Storm”, these forces combine to accelerate the demise of the species. In essence, a trade ban hands a monopoly on commerce to the black market. It is even possible that the trade ban protects the illegal market against competition, suggesting that other conservation tactics warrant consideration. The author concludes that legal, regulated trade needs to be fully investigated using fields of science that have evolved during CITES lifetime to determine if it is a viable tactic for conservation when such conditions exist.

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