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New global protection measures for threatened rosewood trees start this week

CITES decisions need to translate into action on the ground

A number of threatened tree species have been given a new lease on life. At its 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in August 2019, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) granted protection to several species – adding them to Appendix II of the binding global wildlife treaty. Among the new species to be regulated are mukula rosewood (Pterocarpus tinctorius), found in Central and Southern Africa; the critically endangered mulanje cedar from Malawi (Widdringtonia whytei); and the widely traded Spanish cedar genus (Cedrela spp.).

Ninety days after the decisions were taken in Geneva, the listings for mukula and mulanje cedar are now coming into effect. Starting this week the timber can be internationally traded only with a special CITES permit, issuance of which is contingent upon the timber having been harvested legally, and also proof that its removal does not threaten species survival in the forest. Governments have had three months to put necessary measures in place to comply with the Convention.

As are all rosewoods, mukula is in particularly high demand for furniture in China. Asian timber trafficking networks have been plundering Africa’s forests for years to export this valuable timber, despite bans in both Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In its investigation Scheduled Extinction: Our Last Chance to Protect the Threatened African Mukula Trees, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) U.S. warned that without international regulation to control the trade, the mukula tree will be driven to extinction in the next two-to-five years. Forestry Advisor from Malawi, Clement Chilima, who introduced the proposal to protect mukula trees at the CITES CoP18, warned: “Mukula is disappearing rapidly through international trade.”

Rosewood has become the most illegally traded wildlife product in the world, both in value and volume, surpassing seized products from elephants, big cats, rhinoceroses, pangolins, parrots and turtles combined. The recent decision taken by the global wildlife body provides new hope to save the species. Still experts warn that – as has been historically the case – traffickers will work to circumvent new rules by falsifying permits, mis-declaring species, and bribing or threatening government officials.

Almami Dampha, Senior Policy Officer for the African Union, emphasized the damage that illegal logging and trade is causing to local communities: “The governments, the politicians, must see the protection of this species as important . . . it is not just an economic issue. It’s social, environment, political, peace and stability, all combined.”

Hélène Perier, Forest and Wildlife Policy Officer at the European Commission, who also expressed concern about the growing trend in rosewood trafficking, stated: “What really matters to us in the European Union is to make sure that these decisions can now translate into concrete action on the ground.”

Susanne Breitkopf, Deputy Director at EIA’s forest campaign agrees. “Experience with other timber species such as kosso in Nigeria has shown that – if properly enforced – CITES can be a powerful tool against organized forest crime. Starting now, it is vital that all parties stop exporting mukula trees until they fully comply with the terms of the Convention. Importing countries, in particular China, need to seize and report all timber without valid CITES permits.”

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