Determining the sustainability of legal wildlife trade
Exploitation of wildlife represents one of the greatest threats to species survival according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Whilst detrimental impacts of illegal trade are well recognised, legal trade is often equated to being sustainable despite the lack of evidence or data in the majority of cases. We review the sustainability of wildlife trade, the adequacy of tools, safeguards, and frameworks to understand and regulate trade, and identify gaps in data that undermine our ability to truly understand the sustainability of trade. We provide 183 examples showing unsustainable trade in a broad range of taxonomic groups. In most cases, neither illegal nor legal trade are supported by rigorous evidence of sustainability, with the lack of data on export levels and population monitoring data precluding true assessments of species or population-level impacts. We propose a more precautionary approach to wildlife trade and monitoring that requires those who profit from trade to provide proof of sustainability. We then identify four core areas that must be strengthened to achieve this goal: (1) rigorous data collection and analyses of populations; (2) linking trade quotas to IUCN and international accords; (3) improved databases and compliance of trade; and (4) enhanced understanding of trade bans, market forces, and species substitutions. Enacting these core areas in regulatory frameworks, including CITES, is essential to the continued survival of many threatened species. There are no winners from unsustainable collection and trade: without sustainable management not only will species or
populations become extinct, but communities dependent upon these species will lose livelihoods.