Earless Monitor Lizard © Indraneil Das

Earless Monitor Lizard © Indraneil Das


Published 2 November 2018

New paper recommends bottom up protection using CITES

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 2nd November 2018—A new study urges governments planning to introduce new protection for traded wildlife species to first restrict exploitation at the national level—or risk sparking a harvesting spree before new regulations are enforced.

When seeking better protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for a species threatened by international trade, the study suggests it is best to start at the bottom—by listing the species in Appendix III of the Convention.

An Appendix III listing is a precautionary measure whereby international trade can only take place with a certificate of origin and export permit from the State where a species occurs. This allows countries to assess levels of international trade in the species and weed out illegal trade.

It also helps prevent a gold rush phenomenon whereby traders rush to obtain specimens between the time authorities announce they are seeking to restrict international trade in a species under CITES and the new regulation becoming enforceable. 

Left hung out to dry: How inadequate international protection can fuel trade in endemic species—The case of the earless monitor illustrates the problems caused by such a scenario.

The highly coveted Earless Monitor Lizard Lanthanotus borneensis is found only in a limited area in Malaysia and Indonesia. Despite being banned from export by both countries under their national legislations, evidence of global illegal trade quick surfaced shortly after the species’s rediscovery. At the time, the species was not listed in CITES, meaning officials outside Malaysia and Indonesia had no clear legal basis to take enforcement action and illegally wild-caught lizards could be falsely passed off as captive bred, thus enabling international commercial trade. 

After it became clear restricting trade through a listing in CITES Appendix I or II was being considered for the Earless Monitor Lizard, but without an Appendix III listing first being put in place, researchers noticed a rising interest in the species—31 online advertisements offering a minimum of 108 lizards for sale across 13 countries in Asia, Europe and North America soon appeared.

The authors of the latest study argue that in such instances a species should be listed in Appendix III of CITES as an interim measure—a move that Parties to the Convention can implement with immediate effect, without the need for a majority vote—as during the period between announcement of a CITES Appendix I or Appendix II listing proposal until the eventual decision comes into effect (in this case it was an Appendix II listing with a zero quota for wild-caught specimens), no control mechanisms are in place to combat smuggling. 

The authors propose that immediate Appendix III listing should be compulsory for any non-CITES listed species proposed for listing in Appendix I or Appendix II, to enable more immediate regulatory processes to prevent illegal international trade. 

“At a time when more species are being commercially traded globally without adequate international regulatory mechanisms, CITES is the best platform through which trade can and must be controlled, without compromising species survival.” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. 

We hope that as the next Conference of the Parties to CITES approaches and governments consider species listing, the CITES Appendix III provision is not forgotten

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia