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Dozens of tropical trees awarded new protections at CITES

Numerous species of rosewood and ebony from Madagascar, Latin America, and Southeast Asia were granted protection today at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. The ruling comes one day after CITES granted the first protections ever to sharks and manta rays.

“Yesterday sharks, today timber: we appear to be witnessing a new direction for the world’s wildlife trade Convention,” said David Newton, TRAFFIC’s Director in East and Southern Africa.

The new rules will cover all of Madagascar’s ebony species, which currently numbers around 80, as well as the nation’s rosewood. In recent years, Madagascar has seen many of its forests illegally plundered for rosewood and ebony. The crisis, which began following a government coup in 2009 and is still ongoing, has placed Madagascar’s already-fragile forests and biodiversity at risk.

Hardwood logs likely cut from Masoala National Park being loaded in Maroantsetra, Madagascar in October 2009.

Rosewood logs on a beach in Maroantsetra, Madagascar. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.

“[The listing of these species] will greatly strengthen Madagascar’s enforcement efforts to protect these commercially valuable but threatened species,” said Newton.

New protections will also cover Siam rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis), Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), and other rosewood species native to Central America.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that new rules governing Siam rosewood will be especially important as it will make it more difficult for trader and illegal loggers to smuggle the species to China, where much of the world’s illegal wood ends up for processing.

“With this listing, the consumer markets will need to work with Thailand and the range states of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to ensure Siam Rosewood is actually protected, especially as there is a logging ban in Thailand,” explains Faith Doherty, head of EIA’s Forests Campaign. “Finally, we have a legal tool to use in China, the main destination and where rosewood prices on the black market are spurring a flood of smuggling and associated violence.”

The smuggling trade has erupted in firefights between Thai enforcement agencies and Cambodian illegal loggers, resulting in dozens of deaths according to the EIA.

Rosewood and ebony are often used to make high-end products, including luxury furniture, musical instruments, and chess pieces. Although historically such pieces have ended up largely in the industrialized world, demand is on the rise in China for these high-end woods. Currently, a single cubic meter of Siam rosewood can fetch as much as $50,000 in China.

According to the UNEP and INTERPOL, the illegal logging trade is worth $30-$100 billion each year, accounting for 15-30 percent of all deforestation in the tropics. The trade not only devastates forests, but often cuts off local people from vital resources, robs governments of important tax revenue, and comes with other crimes such as human trafficking, drugs, and weapons sales. Long-neglected, the fight against illegal logging has been on the rise in recent years. The U.S., Australia, and the EU all have laws that make it a crime to import and sell any wood products made from illegally logged timber in its native country. Meanwhile, Interpol recently conducted a massive sting against illegal loggers in Central and South America. New protections under CITES can only help stem the trade.

“Today the meeting lived up to its expectations for timber species,” concluded Newton.

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