Along with habitat destruction, wildlife crimes such as poaching currently pose the largest threat to the future of some of the world’s most endangered species.

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Case History - Plants

Although they are extremely important living organisms, plants are often overlooked when considering endangered species, as animals usually attract more media attention. However, many thousands of species of plants need our help to prevent them from becoming extinct. Many commercial plants are grown in plantations or nurseries, but large numbers are still taken from the wild. Examples are the tropical hardwood trees (such as Rosewood and Mahogany), orchids, cacti and carnivorous plants, such as Venus flytraps. All these plants are removed from the wild either by the timber trade to use as furniture or for people to have as house and garden plants.

Trade laws

There are about 200 plant species listed on Appendix I by CITES. There are thousands more, including all orchids and cacti, on Appendix II. However, enforcement of the law is poor in most countries and many customs officers are not able to identify species in a shipment. Up to date, CITES has managed to list the Caribbean and Central American mahoganies on Appendix II, but fierce opposition by Brazil, Peru and Bolivia has prevented Brazilian mahogany from also being listed - these countries have 90% of the remaining mahogany trees. The most commercially sought after mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla, or Big Leaf Mahogany, is still being exploited and is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Japan is the biggest consumer of timber and living plants are sold mainly in North America, Europe and Japan.

The future

Various conservation organisations are either investigating the trade in plants or funding field projects. The charity 'Plantlife' has been set up specifically to save plants. Meanwhile, an unusual method has been found for detecting rare plants that have been hidden amongst other samples by smugglers. Giant African pouched rats have been trained to sniff out some hard woods (as well as pangolin scales) even when these have been disguised. If studies are approved, the rats could be put to work at ports, helping to detect illegal trade.

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