The great white predator is now vulnerable victim of ocean

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One is the ultimate ocean predator, the other a grotesquely ugly fish with lips and eyes prized as delicacies in Asia. What the great white shark and the napoleon wrasse share is their position at the head of a list of species most at risk from international trade.

The shark is hunted for mementoes such as teeth and jaw bones, while the napoleon wrasse - also known as the humphead or Maori wrasse - is being over-fished for its lips and eyes, as well as its flesh, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says. The conservation charity believes both could be wiped out in many areas unless trade is controlled.

WWF released its biennial list of ten of the world's most in-demand species bought, sold, smuggled, killed or captured for the global market, as delegates from more than 150 countries prepare to go to Bangkok next month for the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Stuart Chapman, head of WWF-UK's species programme, said: "Powerful predators such as the great white have a certain mystique, and this has created a demand for souvenirs such as teeth and jaws, but they are also killed for their fins, which are made into soup. Trade controls are urgently needed to ensure this magnificent animal is not fished out."

He said tigers and the Asian elephant had remained on WWF's "most wanted' list for the past decade, indicating that little progress had been made in stopping illegal trade and other threats to their survival. In the past century, the tiger's numbers have been reduced by 95 per cent, with perhaps fewer than 5,000 left in the wild. Among the biggest threats to the tiger are poachers seeking its skins and bones for traditional Chinese medicines, as well as hunters killing the game on which the tigers survive.

There are only between 35,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, with an additional 15,000 in captivity. Poaching of elephants for ivory and meat remains a serious problem in many Asian countries, as does its loss of habitat due to cultivation and logging. Illegal ivory seizures have been increasing since 1995, led by high demand in China.

But Mr Chapman said trade in more obscure species, such as the napoleon wrasse, also needs to be regulated, to ensure it does not join the rapidly dwindling ranks of the tiger and Asian elephant, both now said to be on the verge of extinction.

The wrasse, a bulbous-headed coral-reef fish, is caught and displayed live in tanks for diners in many east Asian restaurants. Demand has grown steadily for this delicacy, which usually costs more than £75 a kilo and it is being unsustainably harvested. Since it is rare and slow to reproduce, its populations are suffering greatly.

Other lesser-known species on the WWF list include pig-nosed turtles, found only in Papua New Guinea but popular as pets around the world, yellow-crested cockatoos from Indonesia and leaf-tailed geckos from Madagascar.

Two species of tree, ramin and asian yew, are also on the list. Timber from the ramin tree, which grows in Indonesia and Malaysia, is used to make mass-produced pool cues, mouldings, doors and picture frames. It grows largely in peat-swamp forests, which are increasingly targeted by illegal loggers in search of the valuable wood, forcing out endangered forest species, including tigers and orang-utans.

Yew trees all over Asia are unsustainably harvested for their bark and needles, which contain a chemical used in the cancer medication Taxol. WWF is calling on Cites, the only global treaty that regulates trade in threatened and endangered animals and plants, to help save these species by ensuring trade is regulated and well-managed.

Cites is perhaps best known for helping to reduce poaching of African elephants by banning ivory sales in 1989. This year, Cites allowed South Africa, Botswana and Namibia to sell 60 tons of stockpiled ivory.


Great white shark: A powerful predator now the victim of a burgeoning trade in teeth, jaws and fins

Tiger: The male, at 10ft long from head to tail-tip, can weigh 575lbs. It has eight sub-species, distinguished by their coats

Asian elephant: 10ft tall, 20ft long and weighing 10,000lbs. Numbers are down by 50 per cent

Humphead Wrasse: Also known as the napoleon or Maori wrasse, it is heavily overfished for its lips and eyes, as well as its flesh

Yellow-crested cockatoo: Now rare in its habitats in Indonesia and East Timor