Otters at CITES CoP18: Stronger protection from over-exploitation

Lalita Gomezmammals

group of otters

Small-clawed Otter (c) Lalita Gomez | Monitor

By Lalita Gomez, Monitor

The Small-clawed Otter Aonyx Cinereus and the Smooth-coated Otter Lutragale perspicillata were uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I during the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) of the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) held in Geneva, Switzerland this past week. Hunting for trade is considered to be one of the key reasons for the decline of otter species throughout much of Asia and recent studies have shown that commercial exploitation of otters is on the rise within the region, in violation of national laws and CITES regulations. The emergence of the illegal trade in otters as pets in Asia has become a major cause for concern. As such, this uplisting offers much needed added protection for otters particularly the Small-clawed Otter which, more than any other otter species, is highly sought after for the pet trade. 

The Appendix I listing bans all international commercial trade in wild populations of these two species. With wild populations of both species in decline across their range, it is anticipated that stronger regulation of the trade will stem the decline to an extent. Stronger regulation should also lead to greater scrutiny by enforcement agencies and strengthening of laws protecting these two species. We look to Indonesia and Japan, two countries that are major players in the trade of otter species.

Currently, the Small-clawed Otter is not protected in Indonesia, where they are harvested from the wild with little to no regulation. Indonesia is considered a key source of the species in trade, feeding the demand domestically and internationally. Japan, a country that has no native otter species, has recently emerged as one of the biggest consumers for pet otters, with numerous incidents highlighting the smuggling of otters from Indonesia and Thailand to Japan. Up until now, Japan’s national laws had no provisions for enforcement against traders who illegally import and trade in non-native species once in the country, apart from species listed on CITES Appendix I. Therefore, this uplisting enables enforcement action against otter traders in Japan. And encouragingly, following the uplisting, Japan has also declared that it will make amendments to its domestic legislation to restrict domestic otter trade from November 2019.

A CITES Appendix I listing also means that any international trade in these two otter species will need to be of second generation and that commercial breeding centres must be certified and registered with the national CITES authorities and the CITES Secretariat. In theory, this should entail greater scrutiny of permits issued for otters in exporting and importing countries to ensure they are obtained from certified captive-breeding facilities. 

Which brings to light once again the issue of bogus captive breeding operations. Recently, anecdotal reports of commercial otter captive breeding facilities in Indonesia emerged, but these claims could not be verified. This is a cause for concern as Indonesia has a history of laundering wild-caught animals through so called captive-breeding facilities. As such, greater scrutiny of captive-breeding activities is warranted.

Monitor is pleased to have been able to contribute evidence-based data to this process with its otter-related publications, and to have played a role in catalysing stronger international protection for these species and regulation of trade. Supporting the effective implementation of these international regulations is the next challenge.

CITES (www.cites.org)

With 183 Parties, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) remains one of the world’s most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of trade. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, health care, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, to ensure 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 and entered into force on 1 July 1975.

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