According to trade records, people plucked more than 400,000 Central Asian tortoises from the wild to sell internationally between 2012 and 2021, mainly for the pet trade. About half of the animals across that decade were imported into the United States, where the going price for the reptiles — also known as Russian tortoises — is a mere $100-200.

These same tortoises, according to scientists, could have provided priceless climate benefits to the planet in the wild. A study published last year identified many animals with a high potential for protecting and enhancing carbon storage in natural landscapes. Tortoise species who make their homes in semi-arid places, such as Central Asian tortoises, were among them…

Protect Threatened Species

CITES is also slow at bringing at-risk species under its regulatory wing. It takes over 10 years on average for CITES to list species in its Appendices after the International Union for Conservation of Nature identifies them as threatened by international commerce, according to analysis released in 2019. The researchers found that 28% of 958 threatened IUCN Red List species likely jeopardized by global trade lacked CITES protections as of 2018.

Since then, other research has identified hundreds of animals and plants on the Red List, which itself can contain outdated and incomplete information, that appear to warrant CITES protections.

CITES parties are working to better identify candidates for listing, with varying views on what measures are necessary. The authors of the listing gap research called for the creation of a “near- automatic pathway” that would ensure CITES promptly considers protecting species the Red List has identified as threatened by international trade. Co-author Eyal Frank, an environmental economist, says “At a minimum, every species that is threatened with extinction should be brought up for discussion and potentially a vote for inclusion in Appendix I or II” where global commerce is a contributing factor.

The inclusion of species in CITES’ Appendices leads to various outcomes, such as bans on commercial trade in highly endangered species taken from the wild. Vast amounts of trade — commercial and non-commercial ­— continues under the treaty but it is subject to some controls, such as permit requirements. Critically, the listing of species in CITES makes trade in those wild animals visible to a certain extent.

Frank believes closing the listing gap is a pressing issue, along with “transitioning as soon as possible to a digital system of export and import certifications.” Currently, most CITES parties use a paper-based permitting system that is highly susceptible to fraud and error, despite the availability of an electronic system.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Conservation Economics
Conservation Economics
Human society profoundly shapes – and is shaped by – the natural world. EPIC research is helping to identify the costs and benefits of preserving natural ecosystems.