African grey parrots rescued from an illegal trader by Ugandan officials at the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border in 2011. Picture: James Akena/Reuters
Scorpions from Togo, eels from Morocco, seal skins from Namibia and hippo teeth from Tanzania.

From 2006 to 2015, more than 1.3million often-overlooked live animals and plants, 1.5million skins and 2000 tons of meat from species listed by Cites (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) have been exported from 41 African countries to East and South-east Asia.

This is the finding of a pioneering new report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, which has revealed how South Africa is the largest exporter of live birds, mammals and plants to nations in the Far East.

The report, the first of its kind, shows how South Africa was the largest exporter of live individuals between 2006 and 2015 to Asia (301010), most of which were birds (231413). Malaysia was the largest importer of birds (60918), followed by Indonesia (56522) and Singapore (48 462).

“Many people would be surprised to learn that 975 different taxa listed in Cites were exported from Africa to Asia and some of those traded in the largest quantities were species that have received relatively little political attention within Cites,” such as the ball python, European eel and leopard tortoise, says TRAFFIC in the report, Eastward Bound.

Reptiles, it says, dominated trade in live individuals, skins and meat, the most common species being leopard tortoise and Nile crocodile.

Over 91% of skins (1418487 of 1558794) exported from Africa were of Nile crocodile.

“Until now the legal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia has been largely overlooked, but TRAFFIC’s new study aims to fill in some of the blanks in our understanding of this vast, complex and legitimate intercontinental exchange of natural resources,” said Willow Outhwaite, co-author of the study.

The analysis was for nearly 1000 different taxa listed under either Cites Appendix I (most endangered) or Appendix II (not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless trade is closely controlled).

It shows how 41 African countries exported Cites-listed wildlife to 17 Asian countries and territories. Live wildlife exports have generally increased since 2006 and the proportion of trade from captive sources increased from 42% in 2006 to a peak of 66% in 2013.

Between 2006 and 2015, South Africa was the largest exporter of African grey parrots to Asia (40635).

In 2016, this species was uplisted to Appendix I, meaning all facilities breeding for export need to register with Cites to continue to export commercial specimens. At the time of the report just 25 had registered out of 1630.

Some of the report’s other findings are that the second most common mammal skin exported was of the African elephant, with 11285 primarily exported from Zimbabwe and South Africa; Japan was the largest importer of live amphibians and arachnids; and Singapore imported the most live birds.

The Saturday Star