Opportunities and challenges for analysis of wildlife trade using CITES data – seahorses as a case study

  1. In principle, the database generated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) offers an unparalleled opportunity to analyse trade in species of conservation concern.
  2. The value of the database is assessed in the context of trade in 47 species of seahorse (Hippocampus spp.), all of which are included on CITES Appendix II. This listing requires that all 180 Parties to CITES (member Parties) limit exports to levels that do not damage wild populations, ensure they are obtained legally, and report their trade to CITES.
  3. An evident need for greater universal compliance with CITES reporting requirements was identified. The most glaring problem was a substantial mismatch in species and volumes between export records and import records, indicating that neither dataset is complete nor reliable.
  4. The evaluation also showed that Parties should increase compliance with CITES requirements to record all trade shipments, provide units for exports (e.g. individuals, kilograms) and identify exported taxa to species, perhaps supported by automated checking of entries.
  5. The challenges with the CITES trade database were more evident for the global trade in dried seahorses than the smaller and more easily-tracked trade in live seahorses. Nonetheless, CITES’ data from 2004–2011 revealed a seahorse trade involving millions of animals, tens of species, and scores of Parties.
  6. CITES data have also proven invaluable in supporting CITES reviews of how Parties are implementing the Convention for seahorses, and in generating consequent action for their conservation.

Foster, S., S. Wiswedel and A.C.J. Vincent. 2016.  Opportunities and challenges for analysis of wildlife trade using CITES data – seahorses as a case study. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26(1):154-172.   https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.2493