Wildlife Trafficking

BANGKOK, Thailand — Banning the trade in endangered
wildlife can actually result in increased trade in the animals and
their parts, a report published Thursday said.

The finding, reported in the journal Nature, is likely to fuel
debate among conservationists who disagree over how to best curb
the trade in endangered species.

Signatories to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species or CITES are due to gather in the Hague starting
June 3 to consider revising the list of thousands of plants and
animals whose trade is banned or regulated. The parties to CITES
meet every three years.

"The most severe restriction that CITES can enforce is an
explicit ban on commercial trade of wild species threatened with
extinction," Philippe Rivalan, a researcher at the University
Paris Sud, wrote in the Nature commentary. "We report here
concerns that such bans can themselves lead to an increase in trade
of vulnerable species."

Conservationists can recommend that CITES bans the trade in a
particular endangered species. But because CITES can take between
240 and 420 days to actually implement the ban, the volume of trade
in that species actually tends to rise during that period as
traders try to beat the time limit.

Once the ban is imposed, prices can spiral upward.
The price of rhino horns on the South Korean market, for
example, increased by 400 percent in the two years after CITES
banned the trade in the items and the poaching of black rhinos
rose. The study did not say when the ban was imposed.

''At the very least, our findings suggest that CITES authorities
will need to use extra vigilance in controlling permits during
transition periods and in adhering to quotas," Rivalan wrote.

Rivalan said CITES should work to speed up the listing process,
so that conservation measures could be put in place before a
species numbers drop to the point where a trade ban is necessary,
he said.

A spokesman for the CITES Secretariat could not be immediately
reached for comment.

Susan Mainka, a senior coordinator of the World Conservation
Union's global program, disagreed with suggestions that
implementation delays always result in a spike in illicit trade.

"For some species such as elephants, there has been a long
string of listing proposals since 1989 that have not generated
similar responses in illicit trade," she said.