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High Hopes for Global Wildlife Treaty to Defeat African Tree Poaching

As representatives from over 180 countries meet in Geneva for the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), EIA releases a new report documenting the highly destructive trade in “mukula” wood from Central and Southern Africa. Asian timber trafficking networks have been plundering the forests for years to export this valuable timber, despite several bans that have been issued during that time in both Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Scheduled Extinction: Our Last Chance to Protect the Threatened African Mukula Trees warns that without international regulation to control the trade, the mukula tree will be driven to extinction.

EIA’s Forest Campaign Deputy Director, Susanne Breitkopf said: “CITES Parties need to seize this opportunity to help African countries protect the mukula tree from ongoing illegal plunder and to ensure its survival for future generations. According to our investigation, if nothing is done now, it will be too late in three years at CoP19.”

To that end, Malawi is proposing to list mukula (Pterocarpus tinctorius) on Appendix II of the Convention, which would allow for legal harvest and trade of the timber in sustainable volumes. In the submitted proposal, experts warn that since valuable rosewood in Southeast Asia has been largely exhausted, and a number of timber species have been included in Appendix II of CITES for international control of the trade, “mukula will be the next domino to fall.”

The DRC and Zambia – two main producers of mukula – have issued on-and-off bans to stop illegal logging of the tree and prevent its commercial extinction. However, well-connected traffickers have ensured continued access to the region’s fast-disappearing forests through bribery and schemes. Some of these traffickers told EIA undercover investigators that despite the bans and restrictions, mukula harvest and trade has “never stopped.” Several pointed out that mukula has already become rare, and will likely go extinct in three to five years at most.

In Zambia, EIA investigators found that the State-owned company Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation Limited (ZAFFICO) has been used for at least two years as a cover for well-connected Zambian and Chinese businessmen to export thousands of freshly cut mukula logs, despite the ban in place. In DRC, the dormant trafficking networks that caused the well-known mukula crisis of 2017 have reemerged recently, after Zambia and DRC reached an agreement to reopen the transit of Congolese timber through Zambia.

Civil society organizations, regional community and religious leaders as well as parliamentarians have been denouncing the harmful impacts of the illegal mukula trade for years, as rural communities see their natural resources disappear without benefitting from it in any way.

EIA’s Breitkopf said, “Experience with other timber species, such as African kosso, has shown that – if enforced – CITES and actions taken by consumer countries can be a powerful tool against organized forest crime. Including mukula in CITES Appendix II will be a critical step in halting this timber trafficking and preventing the species from going extinct.”

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