Weekly Update: CITES Database Review Project


Recently, a petition to list African lions as endangered under the Endangered Species Act cited outlandish numbers of hunting trophies as a major factor to the decline in lion populations. The information that these organizations relied on, however, is skewed.  While their math supporting their conclusions is correct, SCI Foundation has discovered that the source of information used by the petitioners is erroneous.

The World Conservation Monitoring Center trade database (WCMC database), available through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) website, is undoubtedly the best available information on the numbers of protected wildlife and plant species in trade.  The database is utilized in many ways by CITES members, wildlife management agencies, private organizations, and of course, groups opposed to all kinds of wildlife trade.   Unfortunately, the WCMC database is subject to inaccuracies due to inconsistent use of coding in the trade of wildlife and plants.

Currently, SCI Foundation is working to demonstrate the discrepancies between WCMC CITES statistics and the actual number of lions taken by hunters each year.  This work will hopefully uncover problems with the database that are likely not unique to lions and expose the inaccurate facts presented in the petition to list lions as endangered.

In Tanzania alone, SCI Foundation found the actual number of hunted lions is 36 percent lower than the claim made in the petition and 33 percent lower than the number of trophies in trade reported by CITES between 1999 and 2008. While this specific example is from Tanzania, it is not the only country where this disparity exists. The difference between what the WCMC database reports and the actual number of lions taken by hunters can be in the thousands.

At this time, data mined from the CITES database should not be used to determine the numbers of lions harvested by hunters.  This error is likely a result of a discrepancy in the number of animal parts in trade and the number of animals harvested. Thus, it is imperative that the database is accurate. Otherwise, analyses using the database to understand lion harvest and trade are inherently flawed.  This project is on-going and SCI Foundation will continue to research the issue until factual numbers are represented with in the database.

To solve this issue, we have partnered with several lion scientists who seek correction of the WCMC database.  The scientists will assess how lions are coded in the database and compare that data to true lion harvest numbers from multiple lion range states.  After the true numbers are discovered, they will be analyzed in collaboration with WCMC to understand the discrepancies. The project is still on-going, but we hope the WCMC and CITES draft recommendations that fix the problem.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news.

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