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Asian Species at Risk from Global Trade - WWF

Washington, D.C. - Overexploitation and uncontrolled trade are ravaging Asia's forests, rivers and seas according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The warning comes ahead of the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which begins in Bangkok on Saturday. It is the first time that the CITES meeting is being held in Southeast Asia and three Asian species -- ramin, a tropical hardwood, humphead wrasse, a giant coral reef fish, and the Irrawaddy dolphin are high on the agenda for discussion.

"CITES needs to put strong trade measures in place to back up conservation action in Southeast Asia. The Irrawaddy dolphin, ramin, and wrasse are all critically threatened by trade. Governments need to act now to show they're serious about protecting species at risk," said Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at World Wildlife Fund.

Illegal logging and the huge global demand for ramin, used for window and picture frames, is causing concern for the future of the species, if it is not regulated soon. Experts at WWF point out that not only is ramin becoming increasingly rare, but the illegal loggers are also putting at risk endangered species such as tigers and orang-utans that live in the forests where ramin grows.

Other species are also facing overexploitation. Widespread fishing practices are threatening the survival of the humphead wrasse and the Irrawaddy dolphin. Cyanide is often used to stun and capture the wrasse which is harvested for the live fish food trade. WWF is concerned that the fish, which is often traded young, could soon be lost from some areas, if the level of trade is not regulated.

The Irrawaddy dolphin faces more stringent regulation as even limited trade of the dolphin could trigger extinction. The biggest threat to its survival in the wild is entanglement in fishing nets and injury from explosives used for dynamite fishing. However, putting them on display in zoos is also contributing to their decline. This rare dolphin is popular in Asia - currently, Irrawaddy can be found on display in at least 9 Asian countries.

South East Asia is a major hub for legal and illegal wildlife trade, which internationally is worth billions of dollars annually and involves more than 350 million plants and animals each year. WWF and TRAFFIC will be working with those present at this year's CITES to discuss better control and management of trade in the region.

WWF will also be pushing for greater protection of great white sharks -- at risk from unregulated trade in their teeth, jaws and fins - and for international action to stop the decline in saiga antelope due to illegal hunting and habitat loss in Central Asia. Populations of saiga have dropped from more than one million to around 40,000 over the past decade.

WWF believes that trade in some of these more obscure but commercially valuable species needs to be regulated to ensure that they don't join the ranks of the tiger and Asian elephant -- both of which have been exploited to the verge of extinction.