Central Asian border controls lifted. Wildlife trade under the spotlight.

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Central Asian border controls lifted. Wildlife trade under the spotlight.

Bonn, Germany, 1 July 2014 -- Member countries of the newly established Eurasian Customs Union (ECU, comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia) need to take a well-coordinated approach to better regulate wildlife trade and prevent potential negative impacts on the survival of Central Asia’s wildlife, finds a new series of studies released today.

The ECU is a vast region stretching to China in the East and to the European Union in the West. With the creation of the ECU, open borders between the constituent countries have been created, similar to other regional economic integration zones.

While formally the removal of internal border controls is not intended to affect implementation and enforcement of obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in practice the removal could result in free and undeclared movements within the ECU of wildlife, including species listed under the Convention.

These are just some of the findings in three reports on the region published today by TRAFFIC and the CITES Secretariat in English and Russian. The reports were issued at the 18th meeting of the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which began today in Bonn, Germany, where a draft Central Asian Mammals Initiative is being presented to CMS scientists.

“Political borders rarely coincide with natural habitats or ecosystems, especially in mountain regions where national boundaries often follow ridgelines. Mountain goats and predators, like snow leopards and wolves, live on both sides of mountain ranges and both sides of the borders so trans-boundary cooperation between ministries, countries and treaties are essential to conserve larger spatial scales, to better manage the species and to help prevent illegal international trade – the Marco Polo Sheep (Argali) in the Pamir is just one species which occurs across five countries” said David Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer, CITES.

Central Asian countries are home to a rich fauna and flora that is also at risk from the illegal trade for Saiga horns, musk, snow leopard skins, live falcons, Argali sheep and endemic plant species in the Caucasus. 

“The CMS Central Asian Mammals Initiative (CAMI) brings all Central Asian countries around the table to conserve wildlife beyond borders in this critical global hotspot for animal migration,” said CMS Regional Officer for Central Asia, Christiane Röttger.

“Close collaboration between CMS, CITES, government agencies and NGOs such as TRAFFIC is vital to jointly tackle illegal wildlife trade and manage such charismatic species found in the region such as snow leopards, saiga antelopes and argali mountain sheep sustainably. The three new reports launched at the CMS Scientific Council today will make a major contribution to the future work of CAMI.”

Lack of consistency in wildlife trade controls could result in the exploitation of the weakest link in the chain, allowing illegal trade to enter the ECU by way of the route of least risk of detection, or “permit-shopping,” whereby traders refused an import permit in one ECU member country obtain it from another. The potential future enlargement of the ECU to include non-CITES Parties such as Tajikistan may create an additional layer of complexity for those addressing the implementation and enforcement of CITES in the region. Member States of the ECU also need to collaborate closely on management measures such as the setting of quotas or making “non-detriment findings”, a key requirement before countries can allow the export of CITES-listed species under CITES.

“Central Asia is home to a wide variety of charismatic species, which are both important symbols of the region’s diversity and of relevance to the region’s economy, but open borders within a customs union create obvious challenges for wildlife trade regulations to prevent illegal and unsustainable practices”, said Stephanie von Meibom, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for Europe

“Trophy hunting could also be affected. This is an important activity in this region, with Russia and several Central Asian countries a popular destination for European hunters seeking trophies of various species of bird and mammal. For certain species, when well-managed, legal or trophy hunting can contribute to conservation of biodiversity and local livelihoods”, concluded David Morgan.

A recent analysis by TRAFFIC of the CITES trade database showed that 10 245 hunting trophy items from species listed in the CITES Appendices were exported from the project countries between 2000 and 2010. Almost all trophy items consisted of Argali, Brown Bear and Wolf. Most were exported from Russia (9473 trophies), with smaller numbers from Tajikistan (705), Kyrgyzstan (668), and Kazakhstan (126), and 13 from Uzbekistan.

However, there are numerous recent examples of poaching and illegal trade in trophies of CITES-listed species in the region. The actual level of illegal off-take is unknown. Known cases may represent a very small fraction of the true total. The wildlife conservation sector is under-resourced across the region with a lack of funding, trained personnel, transport and other equipment severely limiting the effectiveness of anti-poaching efforts.

Since 2004, CITES has moved to strengthen its cooperation with CMS to bring a more coherent approach to the conservation and sustainable use of species covered by both Conventions. This cooperation is expressed through a Memorandum of Understanding a rolling programme of joint activities. The reports published today will be of value to the Parties of both Conventions.

TRAFFIC was commissioned by the CITES Secretariat with funding from the European Union to compile the three reports examining these and other wildlife trade issues, aimed at strengthening the capacities to implement and enforce CITES in Central Asia and Russia. TRAFFIC hopes that these reports will contribute to fostering regional coordination, co-operation and information exchange among the relevant countries of the Central Asian region and will continue to support the countries in managing the use and trade in wild animals and plants in the region.

The three reports are:

Wildlife trade in the Eurasian Customs Union and in selected Central Asian countries, which examines the implementation of CITES in the ECU and in selected Central Asian countries.

A Framework for CITES non-detriment findings for hunting trophies with a focus on ArgaliOvis ammon, which provides help in determining whether trade in a particular trophy species is likely to be detrimental to its survival.

Trophy Hunting of CITES-listed species in Central Asia, which reviews the policies and regulations concerning trophy hunting in selected range States of the Argali Ovis ammon and provides a framework for the establishment of sustainable hunting programmes that support conservation.


Note to editors:

For more information, contact Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or [email protected].

Richard Thomas, Global Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC: +44 1223 651782 or [email protected].


Reports available:

Wildlife trade in the Eurasian Customs Union and in selected Central Asian countries available in English and in Russian.

A Framework for CITES non-detriment findings for hunting trophies with a focus on ArgaliOvis ammon in English and in Russian

Trophy Hunting of CITES-listed species in Central Asiain English and in Russian.


About CITES:

With 180 Member States, CITES remains one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, housing, health care, ecotourism, cosmetics or fashion.

CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.   CITES was signed in Washington D.C. on 3 March 1973.



TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a non-governmental organization and forms a strategic alliance with IUCN and WWF.