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Solutions from the Endangered Species Trade

Updated on August 20, 2014
sumatran tiger
sumatran tiger | Source

Solutions from the Endangered Species Trade

by Richard W. Brown

The world faces another mass extinction. This is not due to a natural disaster but uniquely by the impact of humans. The biodiversity of the world is at risk, and the preservation of it will define who we are as mankind. There is little debate about the need to save the richness of species. The rarer an animal or plant is, the more valuable it becomes. The umbrella species hypothesis is using the protection of one species to secure viable habitats for many others. It is effective but can be better implemented. An easy genetic test can help determine the species and geographic origin of the animals or animal products. This makes the domestic breeding of critically endangered species more practical, helping to preserve those species. Regulating the trade of endangered species is necessary but banning their trade hastens their extinction.


Battle of Economic Principles

As a species becomes rarer, its value increases, like the economic water and diamonds paradox. Water is necessary and useful, but not very valuable as a commodity; diamonds are not very useful, and are extremely valuable. Diamonds are valuable because they are rare, while water is not monetarily valuable because it is very common. This is an inverse of their usefulness. The rarer a species is, the more it’s worth dead or alive. The harvest of even the last few individuals is extremely profitable because their rarity counters the cost of time and resources needed (Courchamp 1). Regulation is essential for the survival of endangered species, but a black market by its nature cannot be regulated. The incentive for poaching skyrockets as the demand increases. A white market can be regulated with data, and the revenue from it used to protect habitats. There are alternatives to developing a black market and better methods of regulating white markets than are commonly implemented. By making use of this simple principle the necessary expansion of wild life conservation becomes feasible.

unique mangrove habitat


Using One Species to Protect Many

The use of umbrella species is problematic in that not all species are as effective. When it was first hypothesized it was assumed that the large bodied mammals especially apex predators would be the best umbrella species along with large birds of prey. Protecting their habitat would include protecting their prey. Turns out, body size is of little consequence and the preservation of omnivores as an umbrella species has been shown to be the most effective, by no small degree. The disparity between the effective preservation of biodiversity with omnivorous birds acting as the umbrella species and raptures is surprisingly large (Branton 5-8). The umbrella species protection works. The number of animals protected is largest with birds of prey, seconded by carnivorous mammals. The aim though is to provide protection for the largest number of species not individuals. Omnivores are found in diverse habitats. Unfortunately, there is very little research done concerning insects, plants and fungi being used as umbrella species.

Red Mangroves are effectively used as an umbrella species in Florida. This endangered species of tree provides habitat for one of the world most diverse ecosystems. They are further being used as a way to generate revenue for the protection of wild life. While it is illegal to collect seedlings in the wild for commercial trade, Florida Fish and Wild Life sell them to help fund conservation efforts, and protect Florida's mangles from becoming white sand beach resorts. This has been done very successfully and the illegal trade of this highly desirable species has plummeted to almost non-existence.

This can be used as a model to more effectively protect the jungles of Southeast Asia. Species of orchid are being driven to extinction by the black market, while umbrella species like the Sumatran Tiger are being pushed even further toward extinction (if they’re not already extinct) by habitat destruction. The trade of extremely valuable orchids in a regulated market would help fund conservation efforts. This has the potential to change the current system of end market regulation were the endangered species trade is regulated by import, into one based on export from the country of origin. The country of origin would have a monetary intensive to regulate its export of endangered species, which is much more practical and effective.

The realization that body mass is not an effective indicator of an umbrella species effectiveness should increase the protection of smaller species that are most at risk in the exotic pet trade. The exotic pet trade is extremely profitable, and the animals are alive. By using the most fitting endangered species of omnivorous mammal and bird species as umbrella species, along with highly regulated trade, would provide the necessary funding for the protection of their habitat. Without economic gain from their protection, conservation of the most threatened species will continue to become more expensive and less effective.

one of many endangered Indian orchid species
one of many endangered Indian orchid species | Source

Changing the Cost to Profit Relationship

Turtle shells are used in traditional Chinese medicine and are a clear example of the need to regulate the endangered species trade as an export. Turtles are slow; they grow slowly, reproduce slowly, and aren't found in dense populations in the wild. While a species could be found throughout many countries its population could still be small. “Numerous studies have demonstrated that sustainable use of long lived reptiles is problematic because longevity in Chelonians is usually associated with delayed sexual maturity and low fecundity.” (Tien-Hsi 6) Wild-caught specimens are mixed with domestically bred turtle products as they are traded multiple times between countries, making the origins indistinct. They are a highly profitable export so the developing and 3rd world countries which they are native to turn a blind eye. They are in such high demand at their end market, that their import is largely unregulated (Tien-Hsi 7). Making it profitable to protect endangered species is the only possible solution.

Unfortunately, the current system allows criminal enterprises to thrive. There is very little concern for the welfare of the animals, supplying the most graphic examples of the endangered species trade. International black market trading rings supply a large demand for exotic pets. There are very few numbers but the vast majority of black market animals are thought to die from poor living conditions, inadequate diet, injuries from capture, confinement stress, and many other stressors.


Impoverished Third World Tools

DNA bar-coding is a simple and quick method of determining species and geographic origin by taking a small tissue sample. Illegally harvested animals can be quickly identified from those legally harvested or captured, by checking multiple genetic structures with a field test. This has successfully been used in Africa’s third world countries to curb the bush meat trade (Shashi 6).

have you seen this fish?  probably
have you seen this fish? probably | Source

Everyday Sucess

The international trade of endangered species has successfully saved thousands of species from complete extinction. The aquarium hobby life boats many that are extinct in the wild. Captive breeding projects have been very successful with looser trade regulations. The rarer the fish is, the more profitable the investment in breeding research becomes. When breed in captivity pressure from wild harvest declines. Habitat destruction and introduction of invasive species become the two largest causes of extinction in the wild. Many species that are extinct in the wild are common throughout the world in pet shops. Examples are Endler's Live Bearer, Bicolor Catfish (Red Fin Shark), Pinstripe Damba, White Cloud Minnow, Butterfly Splitfin, many species of Killifish, many species of African Cichlids, and so many others. The list gets enormous if you begin to include critically endangered species. It would be easier to name species that aren't endangered then to list the ones that are. Strange body forms, bold pattering and intense coloration is indicative of a highly specialized niche, make the most at risk animals desirable.

A Glimmer of Hope for the Oceans

I do not intend to suggest that import of endangered species should be unregulated. It can not only be used as a second line of defense but is also necessary for the preservation of our oceans. By regulating endangered species first at export, greater emphasis can be placed on the protection of oceanic species. Sharks and Blue Fin Tuna face imminent threat from over fishing. This could be reduced by licensing and limiting the catch of those licensed to do so. The added revenue from the licensing for import could be used to protect viable breeding populations. When there's enough money involved, even the richest countries ignore the concept of sustainable harvest. By making import a second line for most species, more attention can be drawn to the import of oceanic species.



The biodiversity of the world is in peril from mankind. We need to use the same tenacity to protect them that we would otherwise use to destroy them. The conservation of plants and animals is not necessarily at the great expense of their native countries. By realizing how to make the best use of our conservation efforts, we can preserve a larger portion of them from extinction. Regulating the trade of endangered species is absolutely necessary, but the banning of this practice ensures their extinction. Are we going to be the scourge of the earth?

Works Cited

BRANTON, MARGARET, and JOHN S. RICHARDSON. "Assessing The Value Of The Umbrella-Species Concept For Conservation Planning With Meta-Analysis." Conservation Biology 25.1 (2011): 9-20. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. .

Courchamp, Franck. "Declaring a Species Endangered Actually Hastens Its Decline." Endangered Species. Ed. Viqi Wagner. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from "Rarity Value and Species Extinction: The Anthropogenic Allee Effect." PloS Biology (28 Nov. 2006). Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2013.

SHASHI B. BABBAR, et al. "DNA Barcoding Of Endangered Indian Paphiopedilum Species." Molecular Ecology Resources 12.1 (2012): 82-90.Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

Tien-Hsi, Chen, Chang Hsien-Cheh, and Lue Kuang-Yang. "Unregulated Trade In Turtle Shells For Chinese Traditional Medicine In East And Southeast Asia: The Case Of Taiwan." Chelonian Conservation & Biology 8.1 (2009): 11-18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.

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    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Wonderful andanother one to vote up.

      Enjoy your day.



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