The data reveal the export of just over 35 million CITES-listed animals from Southeast Asian countries in a ten-year period from 1998 to 2007. Almost 30 million of these represent wild-caught individuals and <4.5 million are derived from captive-breeding facilities.
Table 1 shows the most significant exporting countries for wild-caught individuals for the different species groups. It shows that for seahorses, butterflies and corals over 90% of all exports originate from single countries (Thailand for seahorses, Malaysia for butterflies and Indonesia for corals) and that invariable the largest exporter typically supplies over 60% of the trade. For all species groups four countries (Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China) are the major exporters, and the European Union and Japan have been the most significant importers of wild-caught animals from Southeast Asia in the last decade. Similarly as for the exporters, albeit less marked, single countries dominate the markets (e.g. Hong Kong for the import of wild-caught seahorses and other fish and the European Union for wild-caught mammals and birds). China and Singapore, and to a lesser extent Malaysia, are the only Southeast Asian nations that features prominently as importers of wild-caught wildlife. It appears that China is the end destination for these imports, but Singapore (pangolin and reptile skins) and Malaysia (live birds) are less of consumer countries and—after processing—re-export the majority of their Southeast Asian imports.
Levels of illegal trade in CITES-listed species the CITES trade database are generally low involving less than a quarter of a million individuals over the ten-year period (Table 2). Over 60% were reported, or re-exported, by Singapore, almost 30% by Malaysia, and ~6% by the USA. The illegal trade through Singapore (reported origin mostly Indonesia) and Malaysia (reported origin mostly Thailand) almost exclusively involved the re-export of reptiles or reptile skins, presumably after being confiscated by the authorities.
A total of 306,000 butterflies were traded with 13,000 being wild-caught individuals, 109,000 originating from ranging operations, and a further 184,000 from captive-breeding facilities (Fig. 1a). Up until around 2002 numbers of ranch-raised, captive-bred and wild-caught were in a similar order of magnitude, but from 2003 onwards the number of butterflies derived from ranching operations doubled annually followed in 2004 by the doubling of export from captive-breeding facilities. Butterflies are mostly traded dead for the curio market (Collins and Morris 1985; New and Collins 1991). At least 34 species were traded with the most common genera traded are birdwings Troides (ca. 170,000 individuals) and Ornithoptera (ca. 129,000 individuals). The main exporters for this period were Indonesia, China, Philippines, and Malaysia, with the USA and the EU being the main importing countries. The increase in breeding farms as to produce the high-quality specimens demanded in trade has, at least in some countries, led to a significant decrease in the capture of wild-caught specimens. In the 1980s Collins and Morris (1985) reported that, globally, <10% of trade volumes were derived from captive-breeding or ranching operations, but levels seem to have increase considerable in recent years, in Southeast Asia the least. It should be noted that while reported levels of trade in butterflies involves extensive volumes, New and Collins (1991) noted that trade is extremely difficult to monitor because of the ease with which ‘papered’ butterflies (that is, dead specimens with their wings folded and stored in envelopes before they are relaxed and pinned) can be transported. While some specimens demand high prices the majority of trade involves ‘high volume–low value’ species, and it is likely that trade in these species will be underreported.
A total of 15.95 million seahorses were traded, with 15.83 million comprising wild-caught individuals and 0.12 million from breeding farms (Fig. 1b). Of the latter, the two-thirds were F1. The majority of seahorses were exported as dried specimens, i.e. 15.67 million individuals. Seahorses were only included on Appendix II of CITES in 2004, and indeed volumes reported prior to that year are markedly lower than from 2004 onwards. Numbers in 2007 were low compared to previous years and it is not clear whether or not this reflects under-reporting. If exports for the years 2004–2007 are representative for the period seahorses were not included in CITES the number of seahorses exported from Southeast Asia in the period 1998–2007 may have been well in close to 40 million individuals. The vast majority must have been extracted from the wild.
At least 19 species were traded with the most commonly traded species being Hippocampus kuda, H. trimaculatus and H. spinosissimus. Thailand and Vietnam export the largest volumes, with Thailand being responsible for over 90% of all reported trade (Table 1). However, scant data from a recent confiscation of a single shipment of dried seahorses in Poland, comprising of an estimated 1–2 million specimens, suggest true levels of export may be significantly higher than currently thought. It is noteworthy that this shipment originated from Indonesia. Indonesia reports low levels of export in seahorses but the fact that millions of seahorses were processed there and exported to Poland suggest considerable capacity to process seahorses. With respect to importing countries, China and its dependencies, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan PoC are the main importers. Given that the bulk of seahorses are traded in the form of dried specimens destined for Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] (Vincent 1995), this is to be suspected, but given the case of confiscated seahorses in Poland this suggest that there is a high demand for TCM, or other forms of traditional medicine, outside China. Vincent (1995) noted that the in the early 1990s China, Taiwan and Hong Kong combined imported some 12 million seahorses annually (i.e. three times higher than reported here), and expressed concerns about supply not meeting demand. Likewise, Giles et al. (2006) reported the annual catch of some 2 million seahorses in Vietnam in the late 1990s, with the majority of these destined from export to China. If the reported levels of trade as obtained from the WCMC-CITES database are indeed a true reflection of the volumes exported, this then suggest either indeed a decrease in levels of trade or additional unreported trade.
A total of 73,000 individuals of 10 CITES-listed species were traded, 30,000 from the wild and 42,000 from captive-breeding facilities (Fig. 1c). Napoleon Wrasse Cheilinus undulates (ca. 29,000) and Arapaima Arapaima gigas (ca. 28,000) were the most commonly traded species. A small number of fish are included on the appendixes of CITES and those CITES-listed species that are traded in significant volumes (such as sturgeon’s caviar) do not originate from Southeast Asia. Sadovy (2005) remarked that listing of commercial fishes, historically, has rarely occurred under CITES which many governments feel is not a suitable convention for fish, with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations being seen as the only appropriate body for dealing with fishes. In recent years some species have been included on the appendixes of CITES. For instance, the Napoleon Wrasse was included on Appendix II in 2005, with levels of off-take as to supply the Chinese and Hong-Kong SAR food markets posing a potential threat (Sadovy et al. 2003). Ng and Tan (1997) noted that several species of freshwater fish, such as the bala shark Balantiocheilos melanopterus, arowana Scleropages formosus and harlequin rasbora Rasbora heteromorpha, were severely over-exploited as to supply the demand for aquarium trade; of these only the arowana is listed on CITES.
The main traders for the period 1998–2007 of CITES-listed fish were Malaysia and Indonesia with China and Hong Kong SAR being the main importers. CITES-listed fish species are traded for a variety of reasons, including the aquarium markets and human consumption, but while compared to other taxa, volumes are almost insignificant, for individual species and populations, current levels of trade may still exceed sustainable levels of off-take.
A total of 17.43 million reptiles were traded, with 13.79 million individuals from the wild, and 3.51 million from captive-breeding or ranching facilities (Fig. 1d). At least 156 species, of which 65 are represented by wild-caught individuals, were traded from Southeast Asian countries in this period. The most commonly traded turtle genera were softshell turtles Pelodiscus (1.3 million) and box turtles Cuora (520,000), the most common snake genera cobras Naja (1.8 million) and pythons Python (1.2 million) and the most common lizards, monitors Varanus (8.1 million) and crocodiles Crocodillus (400,000). Turtles are traded mainly for their meat or for their carapaces to be used in TCM, snakes, lizards, and crocodilians are traded by and large for their skins, but, the former also in significant volumes for the international pet market. Indonesia and Malaysia were the major exporters in terms of volumes, with Singapore as the major importer followed by the EU and Japan. I expect that a significant part of the imports of skins and raw products into Singapore are exported after being processed. Real levels of trade are expected to be significantly higher. Schoppe (2009) recently assessed levels of exploitation of box turtles (Cuora spp.) in Indonesia and estimated that some 2 million were exported annually; given that the official quota amounted only 18,000 individuals, the majority of turtles were exported undeclared. Similar figures were reported by Nijman et al. (in press) who estimated that trade in Tockay geckos Gekko gekko from Java amounted to some 1.2 million individuals a year, greatly exceeding the quota of 25,000 set by the Indonesian authorities. Wang et al. (1996) reported annual imports of 2 million kg of snakes [representing ~200 to 400,000 animals] from Myanmar to China and Shepherd (2000) reported the annual export of ~1 million kg of Asiatic softshell turtles Amyda cartilaginea from Indonesia to China [representing ~200 to 300,000 individuals].
A total of 388,000 mammals were traded, 120,000 from the wild and 264,000 from captive-breeding facilities (Fig. 1e). The wild-caught species represent at least 16 species. Trends in mammal exports are erratic with total volumes fluctuating between 25,000 and 50,000 individuals annually. Over the ten year period an ever-decreasing proportion derived from the wild, to such an extent that in the period 2004–2007 less than 1% of mammals exported from Southeast Asia was reported as wild-caught. While the (illegal) exports of high profile species such as tigers, bears and elephants receive attention (Stiles 2004; Dinerstein et al. 2007; Shepherd and Nijman 2008; Nijman 2009) the most dominant mammal genera exported legally were macaques Macaca with ca. 270,000 individuals and leopard cats Prionailurus with ca. 91,000 individuals. The main exporters are China and Malaysia, with the EU and Singapore as the main importers. Reported exports of mammals are by and large for their skins, or, in the case of macaques, to be used in the biomedical industry, but recent reports of seizures of pangolins (Manis spp.) in Southeast Asia (Table 3) suggest that exports for meat and TMC (pangolin scales) are more significant than official data indicate (Pantel and Chin 2009). Exports of mammals within Southeast Asia, especially for the ‘wild meat’ markets may have been reduced in recent years following the outbreak of SARS (this being linked to wildlife trade: Bell et al. 2004) and even avian influenza (Roberton et al. 2006), but given that it appears that much of this trade goes unreported or does not involve CITES-listed species it is unclear to what extent.
A total of 1.04 million birds were exported, 269,000 from the wild and 772,000 from captive-breeding facilities (Fig. 1f). Especially from 2000 onwards the vast majority of birds were reportedly derived from captive facilities. After an initial increase from 1998 to 1999, exports of birds from Southeast Asia has seen a progressive decline, to such an extent that exports of birds in the years 2004–2007 are virtually non-existent. In total at least 285 species, including 57 wild-caught, are traded. The most commonly traded genera were leiothrix babblers Leiothrix (ca. 170,000 individuals) and hill mynas Gracula religiosa (69,000 individuals). Main exporters were China, Vietnam and Malaysia with the EU, Japan and Malaysia as the main importers (Table 1). Partially in response to the outbreak of avian influenza the EU in 2005 severely restricted imports of birds, and with imports into Malaysia being partially for re-exports, the export of birds from Southeast Asia has come to an almost complete halt. There has been a discussion on whether blanket bans on bird trade are appropriate and effective (see e.g. Cooney and Jepson 2006; Gilardi 2006; Roe 2006) but at least locally levels of trade in wild-caught birds have declined (Shepherd 2006).
A total of 17.83 million pieces of coral and 2.36 million kg of live coral were traded in the period 1998–2007 (Fig. 1g, h); representing at least 90 species that are wild-caught. Over this period the vast majority has been derived from the wild, but from 2003 onwards exports of coral from mariculture has seen a progressive increase. Only Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam report export of corals from mariculture; Indonesia exports mariculture coral as ranch-raised whereas Viet Nam and Malaysia exports it as captive-bred. Imports of corals are difficult to monitor accurately, and indeed. Blundell and Mascia (2005) found that the CITES trade database showed an almost 400% higher level of trade in corals than USA customs, and Wells and Barzdo (1991) have argued that CITES probably has a limited role to play for wide-ranging marine species such as many species of coral. As noted by Bruckner (2001) tracking trade using the CITES Trade Database provides limited information, because coral is reported to genus, and volume is reported by item or weight, the CITES mechanism, however, may promote the development of strategies to protect corals. While certain Southeast Asian countries have developed management plans for the sustainable harvest of corals, this mainly targets CITES-listed species, and hitherto its effectiveness has not been assessed.