New Protection For Rosewood, The World's Most Trafficked Wild Item

Desire for intricately carved Chinese hongmu furniture, which traditionally uses rosewood, is on the up. Tang Yan Song/Shutterstock

If you had to guess, what do you think is the world’s most trafficked wild item? Ivory? Pangolins? Nope, it’s the beautiful warm red tones of the rosewood tree.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in Johannesburg this week has put restrictions on the trade of all 300 species of rosewood, in an attempt to crack down on the rampant illegal logging and trafficking of its timber.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, rosewood accounts for 35 percent of all seized wildlife products and is valued at more than elephant ivory, rhino horns, pangolins, lions, and tigers combined.

The demand for rosewood timber has grown exponentially in the last decade, mainly due to the growing wealth and desire of the Chinese middle classes for luxury furniture, specifically the intricately carved hongmu style that traditionally uses rosewood.

The proposal to increase the CITES protection, from the current eight species of rosewood to include all 300, came from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), who highlighted the worrying expansion of the hongmu industry, especially in the last decade.

Having plundered the forests of Southeast Asia to virtual extinction, traffickers have turned to West Africa and Central America for the prized timber, and neither the illegal logging of the wood nor the market for it are showing any signs of slowing down.

According to the EIA, hongmu log imports into China increased by 1,300 percent from 2009 to 2014, with exports from West Africa having grown over 1,000-fold in the last five years. And it is still increasing: In the first half of 2016 alone, China imported on average the equivalent of 350 logs per hour. In fact, the value of the rosewood trade has multiplied 65 times in the last decade, and is now worth an estimated $2.2 billion.

Now, all 300 species of rosewood (Dalbergia) have been included under the CITES Appendix II listing – its second highest level of protection. As per usual, the crux really comes down to the nations it impacts to put these plans into action to make a difference.

“We are really thrilled [with the new Cites protection],” Lisa Handy of the EIA told the Guardian. “It’s really in the nick of time to save them from extinction. The trade has exploded exponentially in the last decade. Now it really comes down to enforcement.”

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