What we know about legal trade in exotic and endangered species

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

It is easy to talk and discuss topics such as the sustainable use of wildlife, but in reality, to be able to address it, we must put on good glasses and look at the concrete evidence about the exploitation of wildlife. This means examining the data or processes that are in place to protect biodiversity from exploitation and not individual species.

However, with over 35,500 species listed in CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Wild Flora and Fauna), the dataset is large enough to draw general conclusions. The focus of this report is on the sustainable use of wildlife therefore animals, not plants or wider biodiversity, but similar arguments could be used. Furthermore, we consider only the use of consumption, which we define as removing animals from their habitat or breeding in captivity for commercial purposes. Unconsumed use –which includes tourism, for example– is not considered in this report.

Plenty of definitions and interpretations have been given to the concept of "sustainable use", but Addis Ababa manages to give us a guideline: The Addis Ababa Principles for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity are based on:

  • the assumption that it is possible to use biodiversity in a way where ecological processes, species, and genetic variability remain above the thresholds necessary for long-term viability;

  • all resource managers and users are responsible for ensuring that such use does not exceed these capabilities;

  • "sustainable use" is possible from ensuring long-term profitability. It is indeed possible to maximize everything in one concept: ecological sustainability.

It is important to consider that when it comes to unsustainable use, the main causes are the loss and destruction of habitat, agricultural practices, and legal over-exploitation by companies.

"We want to inform consumers about animal-derived materials and dispel the urban myths and legends about vegan fashion that are spread by ourselves. - proclaimed animal rights groups" and adds later "We are closely monitoring regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, and other regulatory hotspots and we inform and activate consumers to fight for the continuation of choice,said the CCC, Clean Clothes Campaign

Finally, it is worth mentioning that according to the ecological footprint metric, we are using far more renewable ecological resources than what is sustainable: we are using the equivalent of 1.75 Earths. This means that it now takes the Earth one year and eight months to regenerate what we use in one year. The fundamental conclusion does not change: sustainable use "is just a useful story to prevent us from questioning the reality of unsustainable overexploitation of wildlife.

If we talk about breeding in this context, it’s important as it involves the collection of eggs or juveniles from the natural environment (examples are turtles, pythons, crocodiles). The interesting question concerning wildlife breeding is not whether the process itself is sustainable, but whether the activity results in benefits for wild populations and better benefits for local communities, or other social justice outcomes.

Furthermore, it is correct to specify that crocodile farming has been endlessly presented by the IUCN and other promoters of sustainable use, precisely because there have been demonstrable benefits for wild populations (protected by Australian law) and also benefits for the communities, especially indigenous peoples.

There are no other examples of the conservation and social justice benefits of wildlife farming.

Ethical and animal welfare considerations

Animal welfare issues are common in all captive breeding operations, be it lion breeding in South Africa, fur farms around the world, or bear bile farming in China and Southeast Asia. But let's start talking about fur: at least since the 80s, we all know that real fur is unusual or at least criticizable. Anyone who dares to wear a real mink coat must prepare for various kinds of hostility, and rightly so! Certainly, the differences between real and fake fur are now difficult to distinguish but the textile labels should clarify the doubts. However, it seems to be a fact that although many consumers are opposed to fur, they don't necessarily behave in this hostile way.