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Eastward bound – Analysis of CITES-listed flora and fauna exports from Africa to East and Southeast Asia


Nile crocodile tail close up – Africa. VideoBlocks


Many people would be surprised to learn that 975 different taxa listed in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) were exported from Africa to Asia: and some of those traded in the largest quantities were species that have received relatively little attention within CITES.

Trade was reported involving 40 of 54 African countries and from one disputed territory and all 17 Asian countries/territories in this study, although the quantities, species and commodities traded varied enormously.

Animals and plants from Africa were derived from a variety of sources, and trade in commodities from captive/artificially-propagated sources made up a significant proportion. However, a total of 498 taxa were exported from wild or ranched sources demonstrating the ongoing importance of sustainable management.

The aim of this report is to shine a light on the legal trade of CITES-listed species from Africa to Asia, to illustrate the diversity of trade and highlight significant changes that have occurred over the most recent decade where data are available (2006 to 2015). A brief analysis of available data for 2016 and 2017 was conducted to identify emerging patterns.

Trade data submitted by exporting and importing countries are stored in the publicly accessible UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre CITES Trade Database. Data for the period 2006 to 2015 were used for this analysis, encompassing all species of plants and animals listed in Appendix I or II. A number of caveats are recognised with this approach, but the results demonstrate the diversity of trade and highlight species, commodities and countries which dominate the trade.

CITES trade data reveal the diverse nature of the trade in CITES-listed plants and animals from Africa to East and Southeast Asia (hereafter “Asia”): a trade that involves most African countries, all such Asian countries/territories and nearly 1,000 different taxa. Interestingly, African countries had unique trade patterns in terms of the different taxa they exported to Asia: only 18% of all taxa were exported by more than one African country.

Reptiles dominated trade in live individuals, skins and meat: the most common species being Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis and Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus. The sub-regional profiles and country case studies (Appendix 1) in this report demonstrate the incredible diversity of trade, from live plants (Madagascar), scorpions (Togo) and eels (Morocco and Tunisia), to hippo teeth (United Republic of Tanzania), timber products (Republic of the Congo) and seal skins (Namibia).

The results of this analysis lead to recommendations aimed at improving use of trade data for decision making, and sharing of data among stakeholders.


In 2015, 975 different taxa that are included in either Appendix I or II of CITES were exported from Africa to Asia. Some of those traded in the largest quantities were species that receive relatively little attention, such as Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis, Ball Python Python regius and European Eel Anguilla anguilla.

It is also inaccurate to use the term “Africa” as if trade from this vast continent containing 54 countries and one disputed territory is homogenous (hereafter, “African country/countries” is taken to refer to any or all of these 55 entities). In reality, trade is incredibly diverse. For example, CITES-listed exports from West Africa are characterised by live reptiles and arachnids, whereas North African trade focuses on live European Eels and their meat, and Southern Africa exports a vast array of live birds and plants, as well as exporting a great deal of Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus meat and skins. Within each sub-region there is also a great deal of variation in trade.

Animals and plants from Africa are traded from a variety of sources, and trade from captive/artificiallypropagated
sources makes up a significant proportion of exports. Some African countries export only wild individuals, whereas others report deriving their exports solely from captive/artificial-sources. A total of 498 taxa were exported from wild or ranched sources from 38 different countries: all of which will have required the national CITES Scientific
Authority to have determined that the export is not a threat to the survival of the species (through the making
of a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF), which should take into consideration the species’ biology, conservation
status, trade/harvest levels etc.). 

Exporting CITES-listed wildlife can generate a large amount of income for a country, and may contribute to livelihoods. Trade was reported from 40 of the 54 countries and from one disputed territory considered to constitute “Africa” for this analysis. Although a small number of African countries are suspended from exporting CITES-listed species, the full reasons why trade was not reported from the remainder are not clear. Trade was reported into all 17 Asian countries/territories included in this study, although the quantities and commodities imported into each varied enormously.

It is also useful to compare patterns of legal trade from a country with that of illegal trade. Some countries thought to have a large illegal trade have very small or non-existent legal trade. Other countries have legal trades that far outweigh the estimated size of the illegal trade.

The aim of this report is to shine a light on the legal trade of CITES-listed species from Africa to Asia, to illustrate the diversity of trade, and highlight changes that have occurred between 2006 and 2015. A brief analysis of available data for 2016 and 2017 was conducted to identify emerging patterns. 

This report may also be useful to IUCN Specialist Groups and conservation groups to inform them of trade in species of interest. Such specialists can be incredibly valuable when using their knowledge to assist CITES Authorities, for example by providing information for NDFs.

The findings of this report are structured by the five different sub-regions of Africa. Country case studies are included in each sub-regional profile to illustrate the diversity of trade in CITES-listed species. Based on the results of this analysis, recommendations have been formulated. Further information on the implementation of CITES by countries/territories can be found in Appendix 2.

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