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Elephant in the Room

21 October 2016
Protecting South Asia's elephants. Photo: Rohit Varma

Threatened by a brutal wildlife trade, habitat loss and degradation, the Endangered Asian elephant is now largely confined to India, with smaller populations found in other South Asian countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. 

Established by UNEP through CITES, the MIKE (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants) initiative is supporting elephant range State in monitoring elephant killings across Africa and Asia. The information is used to advise enforcement decisions and build capacities for long-term management of populations. Implemented by IUCN in India, MIKE has been mobilizing and capacity building Governments in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to enhance regular reporting of elephant deaths. 

For more information read the feature story on the fight to save South Asia's Elephants



What does the new trade ban mean for pangolin conservation?

14 October 2016
The Chinese pangolin, listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Photo: Cuc Phuong

Pangolins gained the highest levels of protection under CITES with the decision to bring in a ban on international trade. Dan Challender from IUCN’s Global Species Programme and Co-Chair of IUCN’s SSC Pangolin Specialist Group looks at what this means for the conservation of these ‘scaly anteaters’.

Until recently, pangolins were little known, arguably forgotten species, receiving little conservation attention and investment. Their profile has grown enormously over the last five years thanks to efforts from pangolin range states, the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and its members, and other countries and actors.

Poaching of pangolins for international wildlife trafficking is a major threat to the species. It is estimated that since 2000, more than 1 million pangolins have been traded illegally at the international level, which would make them the most trafficked wild mammal in the world. Since 2014, all eight pangolin species are classified as threatened with extinction on The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM.  The Chinese and Sunda species are now listed as Critically Endangered, the Indian and Philippine pangolins as Endangered, and the four African species as Vulnerable.

Pangolins were one species group hitting the headlines at the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress (Hawai‘i, 1-10 September), where a motion was passed urging greater support for pangolin conservation. This enthusiasm carried over to the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES CoP17), which brought in an international trade ban for all eight pangolin species.

At the CITES conference, a number of Asian and African pangolin range states and other Parties demonstrated leadership in proposing the transfer of all pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I, the latter  including the most endangered CITES-listed animals and plants and prohibits all commercial international trade. The proposals were adopted by CITES Parties, largely by consensus, and will come into effect 90 days after the CoP, meaning that from early January 2017 all pangolins will be listed in Appendix I and international trade in wild-caught pangolins for commercial purposes will be subject to an international trade ban. 

A question being posed by some is, what impact will this have given that most trade in pangolins is illegal? It is true that an Appendix I listing will not automatically stop the trafficking of pangolins, but there are some benefits to the above decisions. They should mean that enforcement will be prioritised in some countries, for example China, where confiscations of pangolins will have to be dealt with at a national level as opposed to regional level.

It also means penalties for trafficking pangolins should increase in a number of countries including Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. And, it will also help simplify regulation by removing confusion caused by zero quotas, with international trade in wild-caught animals for commercial purposes being unambiguously prohibited.         

These decisions have hit the headlines around the world and have been celebrated by many. However, while the above benefits should be welcomed, these decisions do not comprise conservation victories. The CITES Parties only include species in Appendix I when they are considered to be threatened with extinction and as a last resort. If anything, these listings more accurately reflect a failure of the Parties and the conservation community collectively in recent decades to address the threats pangolins face.

There are also potential costs to these listings that need to be considered. For instance, will the introduction of an international trade ban lead to increasing prices for pangolin derivatives and higher incentives to poach and traffic the animals, and will this expedite the overexploitation of populations? This is what happened when rhinos were listed in Appendix I in 1977 with the black rhino going locally extinct in at least 18 range states as a result. There is therefore a need to monitor the impact of these listings on markets, trade dynamics and populations. Thankfully, decisions taken at the CITES conference are supportive of such monitoring.

A Resolution on pangolin trade and conservation also adopted at the conference urges all Parties to take a range of measures pursuant to conserving pangolins, including improving law enforcement efforts, ensuring adequate control of any pangolin stockpiles that exist, reducing demand for illegal pangolin specimens, and working with local communities to manage pangolin populations. Two Decisions were also adopted which direct the CITES Secretariat to liaise with ICCWC (the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime) partners and regional law enforcement agencies and ask them to include pangolins in their work programmes; and, subject to funding, prepare a report on the status, trade, stockpile management, demand management and inter alia current captive pangolin populations for the 69th meeting of CITES Standing Committee in 2017.

It is generally well recognised that a suite of multifaceted interventions are necessary to ensure the conservation of pangolins and CITES is one tool that can be used. Importantly, the aforementioned reporting will allow the Parties a first opportunity to evaluate the costs and benefits of the listing decisions made at CoP17 and make recommendations on how to further ensure pro-pangolin conservation outcomes are the result of decisions made in South Africa.   



Keeping leopards in the spot(light) at CITES

13 October 2016
Leopard (Panthera pardus) Photo: P, Meier

At the 17th Congress of Parties of the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES CoP17) in Johannesburg, a side event reinforced the fact that leopards (Panthera pardus) need to stay in the spotlight and remain a conservation priority.

The growing threat facing these iconic animals in the wild resulted in their conservation status declining from Near Threatened to Vulnerable in the June 2016 update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Whist it is the most resilient and adaptable of big cats, it has nevertheless seen its historic range decline by up to 67% in Africa and 87% in Asia, due in no small part to pressures exerted by rapidly expanding human populations. This has contributed to extiction of the leopard in 23 of its 85 original range countries.

Despite this worrying situation, a range of factors including the species’ vast distribution and reputation for resilience, coupled with other iconic big cat species competing for attention and funding, has seen leopards benefit from very little range-wide conservation planning to date.

The CoP17 side event, co-hosted by the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group and Panthera, aimed to refocus attention on the leopard’s current plight, highlighting its current conservation status and exploring potential approaches to arrest recent declines. Findings from this event will inform Parties’ thinking particularly in relation to CoP17 agenda item 39.1 on export quotas for leopard hunting trophies.

A range of acknowledged experts presented on key topics related to improving conservation status for leopard populations worldwide. Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten from the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group first explored the Red List assessment of Panthera pardus in more depth, before handing over to Panthera’s Gareth Whittington Jones who discussed the role of faux leopard fur in reducing poaching pressure on the species. His Panthera colleague Tanya Rosen then explored the contribution of sniffer dogs in combatting illegal trade in leopard products, before Urs Breitenmoser concluded by proposing a potential roadmap designed to strengthen conservation of these big cats globally.

Speaking after the event, Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten commented, “Leopards are famously adaptable and resilient cats but despite these traits, the situation facing populations around the world is increasingly grave. It’s inevitable that at an event of CITES CoP17’s scale, a wide range of different and entirely deserving species of plants and animals compete for a finite amount of conservation capacity. But the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group is determined that leopards remain a key feature of CITES discussions, ensuring these beautiful and mercurial big cats receive the level of attention, planning and concern that their current situation deserves.”



Growing support for regulating international trade in rays and sharks

06 October 2016
Photo: © Daniel Van Duinkerken,, Instagram: daniel.van.d

Governments from around the world took solid steps toward ray and shark conservation at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa when they included commercially fished shark and ray species on CITES Appendix II, which limits trade in the species through permits to ensure their sustainability. 

IUCN’s role as an inter-governmental observer organisation to the convention is to provide data and information from the IUCN Red List and the expertise of its 11,000 scientists.

After the historic listing of seven commercially valuable sharks and rays on CITES Appendix II in 2013, which ensures that parts can only be traded if they are documented to be legally and sustainably sourced, there was apprehension that additional listings for related species might overburden many countries and reduce support for such proposals. These concerns were swept away when, this week, Parties voted to list all nine devil rays (Mobula species), the three thresher sharks, and the silky shark on Appendix II. A two-thirds majority was needed to secure listing, but the silky shark and thresher shark proposals were adopted with support from 79% of Parties voting. The mobula rays passed with 85% of the vote.

“While the CITES Appendix II listing of commercially fished sharks and rays is an important step, ensuring that nations implement associated actions, such as managing fisheries sustainably, is critical to success,” said Professor Nicholas Dulvy, Co-Chair of IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG).

In the run-up to the CoP17 conference, the specialist group worked hard to bring together partners and coordinate efforts through the development of a conservation strategy for devil and manta rays. The IUCN SSG recently completed Red List assessments classifying the Chilean devil ray (Mobula tarapacana) and Bentfin devil ray (Mobula thurstoni) as Vulnerable and Near Threatened, respectively. Subsequent work published by members of the specialist group demonstrated that devil rays are among the species of rays and sharks least resilient to fishing pressure.

“Conservationists, scientists, and governments have been working with nations across the globe to build the capacity necessary to implement the 2013 CITES shark listings,” said Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, Co-Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.  “We will continue these important efforts with the listing of 13 additional species.”

“While the new listings are important, we need to ensure adequate consideration for other highly traded, but overlooked species, such as guitarfishes and small sharks, that would also benefit from CITES protection,” said Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of IUCN SSG. “At the same time, we must continue to encourage the complementary domestic fishing limits that are essential for sustainability, as CITES alone will not save sharks.”

The specialist group continues to provide technical analysis of the status of ray and shark species through the Red List Assessment process to identify species for which conservation action is required. 



Tropical Andes freshwater species at risk – first IUCN Red List assessment

03 October 2016
Protallagma hoffmanni. Photo: Franz-josef Schiel

Almost 18% of the freshwater biodiversity endemic to the Tropical Andes region of Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador and Colombia is threatened with extinction on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, according to a recent assessment by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and partners. The analysis of 967 species included freshwater fishes, freshwater molluscs, dragonflies and damselflies and a select group of aquatic plants.

Acostaea Rivolii. Photo: Jorge MeloThe main threats are agricultural activities, pollution, dams and water management, mining, and unsustainable use of biological resources, such as fisheries and logging. The basins with higher concentrations of threatened species are the Magdalena-Cauca and Dagua in Colombia, followed by the Ucayali, Madre de Dios and Marañón in Perú, Napo, Pastaza and Cayapas in Ecuador, and Beni and Mamoré in Bolivia.

Deforestation upper magdalena river colombia. Photo: Jose Ivan Mojica“This project fills an important information gap, as there are no global assessments of freshwater biodiversity in the region,” says Marcelo Tognelli of the IUCN-CI Biodiversity Assessment Unit and project coordinator. “This new data can be used to inform future development in the region where the current pressures on freshwater ecosystems are increasing dramatically and driving species to the verge of extinction.”

Dicranopygium goudotii. Photo: Cornelio Bota SierraCurrent protected areas do not include many freshwater systems and the project also included the identification of freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA). Eighty six freshwater KBA were identified, of which 25 were newly delimited. This information will help guide the selection of new protected areas or expansion of existing reserves to include critical freshwater biodiversity.

Mesamphiagrion gaudiimontanum. Photo: Cornelio Bota Sierra. “We believe that the information and data included in this report, particularly the identification of KBA, will be extremely helpful to guide scientifically sound decision makings on conservation and sustainable management of freshwater biodiversity in the region” says José Álvarez Alonso, of the Dirección General de Diversidad Biológica del Ministerio del Ambiente de Perú and partner of the project.

Pseudoplatystoma magdaleniatum. Photo: Luz Jimenez Segura“This study emphasizes the need to use both terrestrial and freshwater resources in a sustainable manner to avert biodiversity loss and the ecosystem services that they underpin,” says Carlos A. Lasso of the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt de Colombia and co-author of the report.  “It is also very timely, as it complements many of the national and regional initiatives that are being developed in theFernando Carvajal Vallejos. Photo: Fernando Carvajal Vallejos. region to conserve freshwater ecosystems.”

The study also included an assessment of the vulnerability of the species to climate change, based on their biological traits. This is the first time that the IUCN climate change vulnerability methods have been applied purely in a freshwater context. Using the most conservative climate change models and scenarios, the results show that approximately 12% of the species assessed would be vulnerable to climate change. In some groups, such as the fishes, greater numbers of climate change vulnerable species are found in lower altitude areas, which was contrary to expectations. This new information highlights the need for monitoring those species that would be more susceptible to changing climatic conditions.

The project was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with contributions from Conservation International.

Download the Assessment here: 

For more information or interviews please contact:
Efrén Icaza, Communications Officer, IUCN Regional Office for South America +593 2 3330 684, email 
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Global Species Programme, IUCN, m +41 79 527 7221, e-mail

A unified voice for African rhinos: Continent-wide conservation plan launched

28 September 2016
Photo: © Richard Emslie

African rhino conservation has seen a major boost this week with the launch of the continent-wide African Rhino Conservation Plan, led by South Africa and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (IUCN SSC AfRSG).

The plan focuses on areas where African rhino range states can work together to enhance rhino conservation, such as sharing and analysing intelligence information, re-establishing rhino across boundaries, and enhancing effective funding for conservation. It does not seek to duplicate existing national plans, but rather complement them.

South Africa's Minister of the Environment, Edna Molewa, said: "I am very pleased that all eleven African rhino range states actively participated in developing this important continental plan, and hope it further enhances collaboration between range states for the good of our rhino.”

Black rhino, Tanzania. Photo: © Richard EmslieInitiated two years ago by South Africa, the plan was developed at three range state meetings held in South Africa and facilitated by IUCN SSC AfRSG Chair Dr Mike Knight and Scientific Officer Dr Richard Emslie. All 11 African rhino range states– Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – as well as a previous range state, Angola, participated in its development.

The plan, which was announced at the ongoing 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES CoP17) in Johannesburg, aims to ensure continental rhino numbers increase over the next five years, with a longer term vision to have secure, viable, and valued rhino populations across the African landscape.

Reported rhino poaching has increased continentally for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2015, with just over 6,000 rhinos poached since 2006.

“Poaching and trafficking are driven by transnational organised crime syndicates, so combatting them requires international cooperation. This continental plan should strengthen cooperation between African rhino range states in combatting poaching,” said Richard Emslie, IUCN SSC AfRSG Scientific Officer.

However, there is concern that the necessary increasing militarisation of anti-poaching efforts may be negatively affecting relations with neighbouring communities. Poachers are also often being recruited from poor rural areas where there are few prospects for formal economic empowerment and jobs.

Dehorned black rhinos, South Africa. Photo: © Richard EmslieUltimately, the success of wildlife both outside and inside protected areas depends on the attitude of local people, which is why socio-economics was included as one of the plan components. Namibia’s Minister of the Environment, Mr Pohamba Shifeta, emphasised that the more local people can be incentivised to conserve and benefit from rhinos and other wildlife, the better for conservation.

Range states have voiced support for the development of an African Rhino Fund to facilitate the funding of identified continental priority conservation projects. Rhino conservation is very expensive, with rhino protection costs in South Africa currently around $1,650 per rhino per year, for example.

The CEO of Swaziland's Big Game Parks, Ted Reilly, welcomed the plan's proposed exploration and development of financing mechanisms and structures, noting that "conservation without money is just conversation".

To date, the plan has already been approved by eight range states and it is hoped that the other three will also soon approve it.  In addition to the dignitaries from South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Services, Botswana’s Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife, and an Angolan Conservation Director were also among the speakers lending their support to the plan. 



Our Red List Species Assessors: Keeping up to speed with snails and slugs, an interview with Ben Rowson

28 September 2016
Photo: Ben Rowson

Terrestrial molluscs, which include snails and slugs, are prey to a large variety of animals, and provide important ecological functions such as soil and compost formation. In this interview with Dr Ben Rowson, a terrestrial mollusc expert based in Cardiff, Wales, he talks about his work and involvement with terrestrial mollusc research and conservation.

Photo: Ben RowsonThis is the third of a series of interviews with our Red List Species Assessors currently involved in IUCN’s European Red Lists LIFE project.  Our interviewee is a terrestrial mollusc expert, but future interviews will profile beetle, moss, fern, and other plant experts. The project aims to assess the extinction risk of these species groups, and will contribute to guiding policy decisions and conservation actions at the European level. Read past interviews of this series here and here.

Dr Rowson’s interest in invertebrates was piqued at a young age. “I became a keen natural history person from an early age and didn’t grow out of it. I was particularly fascinated by shells as a kid, their form and variety. It becomes immediately obvious that some are very common and you can find them all over the place, whereas others are much rarer.”

Dr Rowson studied Entomology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and later did his PhD at Cardiff University on tropical carnivorous snails. His studies led to his job as Curator of terrestrial molluscs at the Department of Natural Sciences of the National Museum of Wales. “Slugs and snails are closely related to one another, as slugs are actually a highly advanced and evolved type of snail. There are slugs and snails all over the world and in all environments from deserts to high mountain tops. Because they are slow moving they tend to be restricted to small areas, sometimes just a few square kilometres and for that reason there are a lot of endemic species.”

Photo: Ben RowsonMuseum researchers with access to vast collections of terrestrial molluscs from all around the world have a critical role to play in increasing our knowledge about this group and in describing new species to science. They can also work to increase capacity in developing countries. “My predecessor at the museum, Mary Seddon, was involved in setting up a project involving capacity building in East Africa, where we used the mollusc collections here in the UK to develop better skills in East African countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda and to help those countries understand their biodiversity better.”

Terrestrial molluscs vary enormously in size, from large African carnivorous snails to species you would need a microscope to see, and field work methods depend on the size of your target species. “Terrestrial molluscs are not the most difficult thing to catch, but finding their exact microhabitat can be very challenging. Many species are extremely small - you might need to use special techniques to get them. For example, by collecting the leaf litter of a shady forest and then running that through a series of sieves you would be able to find the tiniest snails. On the other hand, some of them are large enough that you can find them easily with a torch at night or by setting up traps.”

Photo: Ben RowsonSnails and slugs have important functions such as soil and compost formation and are also prey to a large variety of animals, from other invertebrates to birds and mammals. Dr Ben Rowson is currently assessing the extinction risk of a selection of British and Irish slugs as part of the LIFE project, which is assessing the extinction risk of all European terrestrial molluscs. “Generally speaking, many species are found in undisturbed habitats. Places like old forests, unimproved grasslands and large undrained wetlands. Anything that has a major impact on those habitats will kill molluscs by the millions. They are not necessarily rare in terms of numbers, but they are often restricted in their distribution and habitat. They are also threatened by the use of molluscicides and by invasive species, which can compete with them and take over their habitat, making the native species rarer.”

According to Dr Rowson, there is still a huge knowledge deficit about the threats facing terrestrial molluscs and the potential options to mitigate those threats. Some species have declined or disappeared from large areas and the reasons for their disappearance remain unknown. “The Heath Snail (Helicella itala) used to be very common in short grassland, but has become much less common over the 20th Century and it is very difficult to find now. No one is really sure why.”

Other terrestrial molluscs are only known to us from specimens in museums, and a shell can be all that is left of a snail species. “More molluscs have gone extinct in historic times than mammals, birds and reptiles put together – which is why the first thing you need is to have a decent inventory of what species are out there and to know to what extent they are threatened, such as the IUCN European Red List of Threatened Species. The good news is that many invertebrates will respond well to measures taken to help protect their habitats.”

As for Dr Rowson’s favourite terrestrial mollusc: “Arianta arbustorum – it is not a rare species, but has an attractive shell which looks like polished wood, and it reminds me of the pews of the church where I used to go when I was a kid.”



IUCN behind major advance for seahorse conservation

28 September 2016
Tiger-tail seahorse (Hippocampus comes) on coral. Photo: © Peter van den Eynde / Guylian Seahorses of the World

Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of seahorses, decided on Friday to end seahorse exports until it can address the threats they pose to wild populations. The decision followed 22 years of work on the issue by IUCN SSC’s Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group (SSC SPS SG), and was announced just before the ongoing 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Project Seahorse*, which acts as the IUCN SSC SPS SG, first discovered the nature and scale of the seahorse trade in Thailand and generated CITES’ global restrictions on trade in seahorse species in 2002, ultimately leading to Thailand’s decision to suspend trade. 

“Our team is glad to have played a major role in assisting Thailand to tackle this important conservation issue head on.  We’re also eager to help move Thailand’s fisheries and exports of seahorses towards sustainability,” said Prof. Amanda Vincent, Chair of the IUCN SSC SPS SG and Director of Project Seahorse.

Dried seahorses for sale in Hong Kong. Photo: © Tyler Stiem/Project SeahorseAt the request of CITES, the IUCN SSC SPS SG had worked with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries on tools and approaches for export management, and was granted a national research permit to study Thailand’s seahorse populations, fisheries and trades. The group then shared its findings with the government of Thailand to help it progress on trade regulation.

The trade suspension means that the country will stop exporting seahorses for several years, but may one day return to international trade in seahorses.

“Sustainable use offers more potential for long-term conservation than blanket bans,” Prof. Vincent explained.  “Buy-in from the people who depend on a resource is vital to engender compliance with regulations.”

Thailand has so far exported dried seahorses sourced in the wild, almost all of which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Amanda Vincent discovering the extent of the seahorse trade 20 years ago in Behai, China. Photo: © Amanda Vincent / Project SeahorseThe country is the source of more than three-quarters of the seahorses in international trade each year.  Official CITES data show that Thailand has exported about 5 million dried seahorses per year since 2004, although Project Seahorse trade surveys indicate that the number is likely to be much higher. Thai fishers capture the great majority of seahorses by accident in non-selective fishing gear such as bottom trawls, which scrape the ocean floor, taking everything in their path, and gillnets.  Such capture will not be ended by an export suspension.

While welcoming the trade suspension, Prof. Vincent warned that persistent threats to seahorses, including bottom trawling and the degradation of their inshore marine habitats, will need to be addressed with effective protection of large areas of the ocean.  She added that Thailand will need to pay attention to the possibility of illegal trade, given that capture will continue.

* Project Seahorse, a conservation partnership between the University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Zoological Society of London, acts as the SSC SPS SG.



Kering, ITC and IUCN release new data on the sustainability and livelihood benefits of python trade

24 September 2016
Photo: iStockphoto and Shutterstock

Three new reports published today by the Python Conservation Partnership (PCP), a partnership between Kering, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Species Survial Commission Boa and Python Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), reveal that the wild harvesting and farming of pythons is ecologically sustainable and results in socioeconomic benefits for poor households in South-East Asia. Initially presented yesterday at the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) in Johannesburg, South Africa, the “Sustainable Management of the Trade in Reticulated Python Skins in Indonesia and Malaysia", “Trade in Python Skins: Impact on Livelihoods in Viet Nam” and “Trade in Python Skins: Impact on Livelihoods in Peninsular Malaysia” reports represent the culmination of three years of scientific research and signify the completion of the research phase of the PCP.

  • Three new reports show the sustainability of python farming and wild harvesting and the trade’s positive impact on local livelihoods
  • Reports are first in the industry to provide science-based data and recommendations to improve sustainability of the python skin trade
  • Next phase of the Python Conservation Partnership is broader industry inclusion and luxury sector adoption

Python skin. Photo: ShutterstockThe PCP has undertaken research projects since its creation in 2013 to measure the socioeconomic benefits of the trade in python skins in South-East Asia, as well as the sustainability of wild harvesting and the economic viability of python farming. The PCP has also supported training for those engaged in the trade and has tested methods to verify the source of pythons and improve the traceability of skins. Following the partnership’s first report published in 2014, on the feasibility of farming pythons - “Assessment of Python Breeding Farms Supplying the International High-end Leather Industry” - the peer-reviewed reports published today reveal the importance of the trade for the livelihoods of people in Malaysia and Viet Nam and offer detailed recommendations to improve the monitoring and management of the trade overall. Key findings include:

  • Wild harvest of pythons is ecologically sustainable in Sumatra, Indonesia;
  • Management of the trade through size limits, ongoing monitoring of harvested snakes and capacity development of key actors will contribute to sustainable trade; and
  • In both wild harvest and captive farming in Malaysia and Viet Nam, the trade improves livelihood resilience by giving poor households the opportunity to increase and diversify income.

In addition to these reports, the PCP has developed technical documents to be published later this year on using novel techniques to verify the provenance of python skins. The PCP will also release guidance on best practices for animal welfare and management in python farms and processing facilities. These guidelines will initially be implemented and tested in Kering’s supply chain to help refine them. In 2017, the PCP will enter into a new phase, opening up the partnership to a broader group of stakeholders in the python trade, with the goal of implementing positive and durable change in the industry.  

Python and python skins. Photo: iStockphoto and Shutterstock“The PCP is an excellent example of new and multi-disciplinary collaborative models driving real, positive change towards sustainability,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering, “Information and transparency in the python trade was lacking and we all required more guidance to ensure a robust and sustainable trade. After 3 years of research we are very pleased to open-source the results of this important new research with ITC and IUCN. We are confident that this will improve the trade and Kering is proud to support the expert recommendations in our supply chains.“  

“These studies demonstrate that trade in biodiversity is a credible strategy for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITC Executive Director Arancha González. “ITC will continue to work with IUCN and the fashion industry to find innovative ways to promote the sustainable use of flora and fauna and to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people.”

"It is extremely encouraging to see the extraordinary progress made by Kering, the International Trade Centre and IUCN – three organisations with different visions, working collaboratively to achieve a common goal," says Tomás Waller, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Boa and Python Specialist Group. "The results of the Python Conservation Partnership's research and successful collaboration show that it is indeed possible to enhance sustainable use of pythons while at the same time providing livelihood benefits for local communities participating in the trade."

“We welcome this work showing the benefits of python skin trade to rural communities, as well as the depth of engagement with the private sector in making sure that the global value chain is put onto a better and more sustainable footing,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “This work will benefit both the species and the rural communities. We hope more private sector entities join initiatives such as those being pioneered here by the PCP.” 



Poaching behind worst African elephant losses in 25 years – IUCN report

23 September 2016
Photo: Julian Blanc

Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past ten years – according to IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report launched today at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching – according to IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report launched today at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The report is an authoritative source of knowledge about the numbers and distribution of African elephant populations across their 37 range states in sub-Saharan Africa.

Counting Kruger elephant herd. Photo: Ian WhyteIt presents more than 275 new or updated estimates for individual elephant populations across Africa, with over 180 of these arising from systematic surveys. The report summarises – for the first time in almost a decade – elephant numbers at the continental, regional and national levels, and examines changes in population estimates at the site level.

Based on population estimates from a wide range of sources – including aerial surveys and elephant dung counts – the estimates for 2015 are 93,000 lower than in 2006. However, this figure includes 18,000 from previously uncounted populations. Therefore, the real decline from estimates is considered to be closer to 111,000. The continental total is now thought to be about 415,000 elephants, although there may be an additional 117,000 to 135,000 elephants in areas not systematically surveyed.

The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago – the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s – has been the main driver of the decline, while habitat loss poses an increasingly serious, long-term threat to the species, according to the report.

Forest Elephant, Conkouati-Douli National Park, Republic of  Congo. Photo: Hilde Vanleeuwe (WCS)“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant – one of the world's most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species. This report provides further scientific evidence of the need to scale up efforts to combat poaching. Nevertheless, these efforts must not detract from addressing other major and increasingly devastating threats such as habitat loss.”

With over 70% of the estimated African elephants, Southern Africa has by far the largest number of the species – approximately 293,000 elephants in systematically surveyed areas. Eastern Africa holds about 86,000 (20%) estimated elephants, while Central Africa has about 24,000 estimated elephants (6%). West Africa continues to hold the smallest regional population with approximately 11,000 (under 3%). 

Eastern Africa – the region most affected by poaching – has experienced an almost 50% elephant population reduction, largely attributed to an over 60% decline in Tanzania’s elephant population. Although some sites have recorded declines, elephant numbers have been stable or increasing since 2006 in Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, and range expansion has been reported in Kenya.

Aerial view of the forests of Salonga National Park, DRC. Photo: Fiona MaiselsCentral Africa’s forest elephant population has been substantially affected by poaching for ivory, since the 1990s. The Democratic Republic of Congo used to hold one of the most significant forest elephant populations in Africa, which has now been reduced to tiny remnants of its former size. Gabon and Congo now hold Africa’s most important forest elephant populations but both have been affected by heavy poaching in recent years, as have the forest and savannah populations of Cameroon. The savanna populations of Chad have taken heavy losses and those in the Central African Republic have almost completely disappeared.

West Africa’s elephant populations are mostly small, fragmented and isolated with 12 populations reported as lost since 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea and Nigeria. The elephant population in the trans-frontier “WAP” complex that straddles the border between Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger remains the strong-hold of West Africa’s elephant population.

While poaching has not had the same impact in Southern Africa as in other areas, the region is now also facing the emergence of a growing poaching threat. Population declines have been observed in Mozambique and some areas in Zimbabwe, while major populations in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are stable or increasing, and there is evidence of elephant range expansion in Botswana. There is still uncertainty about the size of the KAZA trans-frontier elephant population – the single largest on the continent – and it remains critical to undertake a coordinated survey of this population.

Elephants, Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo: Julian Blanc“This is the first time since 2006 that we have produced an African elephant status report with a continent-wide update and analysis of elephant numbers and distribution,” says Holly Dublin, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) who led the preparation of the report. “This report highlights how important it is to regularly monitor, assess and analyse the status of the African elephant. Understanding population numbers and their distribution is crucial in order to recognise threats faced by the species, target conservation actions and assess their effectiveness. This has been possible thanks to the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group's incredible network of experts and partners.”

Estimates for savanna populations across the continent have improved in both reliability and coverage and many forest populations in Central Africa have been surveyed for the first time.

“This report not only provides information on the changes in elephant numbers but, because it is spatial, it also shows where these changes are occurring,” says first author of the report Chris Thouless, Chair of the AfESG’s Data Review Working Group. “It tracks many elephant populations over time at the site level, allowing us to learn more about why elephant populations are lost or persist in certain areas. This detailed information is essential for understanding what is driving changes in elephant populations.”

Elephants in Samburu National Park, Kenya. Photo: Julian Blanc.The report has been produced by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group, in partnership with Vulcan Inc, a Paul G. Allen company, and Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants. It draws on data from the African Elephant Database of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, which is the most comprehensive spatial database on the status of any wide-ranging mammal species in the wild.

Supporting quotes

"Vulcan and Paul Allen are proud to have helped produce the first AfESR in almost ten years through the Great Elephant Census and sponsorship of the report's production," said Tony Banbury, Chief Philanthropic Officer at Vulcan Inc.  "I congratulate IUCN on this invaluable report card on efforts to conserve Africa's elephants.  The AfESR and the GEC have come to the same conclusion: we are in the midst of a continent-wide poaching crisis that is decimating Africa's elephants.  Urgent action is required to protect these noble animals."

"This report provides the most comprehensive picture available of the status of Africa's elephant populations,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “The data gives us a situation report on the most at-risk populations in the remotest parts of the continent, from the deserts of Mali to the forests of the Congo Basin, helping to guide the work of the Elephant Crisis Fund and the coalition of organisations we support."

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Johannesburg: Christine Mentzel, , tel.:+27 74 452 0750

In Switzerland: Lynne Labanne, +41795277221, ; Ewa Magiera, +41 76 505 33 78,


African Elephant Status Reports bring together estimates from all survey types, as well as expert knowledge.

All aerial survey data from the Great Elephant Census, (, a Paul G. Allen project, and data from dung counts in Central Africa carried out primarily by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) were submitted through the African Elephant Database for consideration for inclusion in this report. 

Changes in populations over time can only be compared for areas where reliable surveys have been used. Declines in elephant populations in this report have been generated by comparing elephant estimates from reliable surveys in 2015 to elephant estimates from reliable surveys in 2006, which were reported in the African Elephant Status Report 2007.

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