Executive summary and recommendations

This report examines trade[1] regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), as recorded by seven Parties (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama; hereafter referred to as “the Region”) in their annual reports to CITES over the ten year period 2003-2012. Trade with the Region as recorded by trading partners is also analysed throughout the report. The aim of this report is to provide key summary messages to inform future trade management in the Region, as a contribution to the capacity development programme supported by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The report comprises six chapters: 1) an overview of trade in CITES-listed species; 2) an analysis of species showing noteworthy patterns of trade in wild specimens; 3) shifts in trade; 4) inconsistencies in reporting; 5) an overview of trade in species native to the Region that are traded at notable levels by other countries, and 6) a preliminary valuation of the Region’s trade in CITES-listed species.

Overview of CITES trade

A total of 29,123 direct export transactions were reported by the Region, of which over half related to artificially propagated plants. The top commodities exported were live Cycas revoluta, live Iguana iguana and Strombus gigas meat.

The Region is predominantly an exporter of CITES-listed species, with 29,123 direct export transactions reported over the period 2003-2012. Artificially-propagated plants accounted for over half of all direct export transactions; reptile commodities, the majority of which were captive-bred, also accounted for a large proportion of transactions. Top commodities exported by the Region include live Cycas revoluta, live Iguana iguana and Strombus gigas meat. The United States was the top importer of trade from the Region, reported as the importer for 48% of direct export transactions.

A total of 5367 direct import transactions were reported by the Region, of which 53% related to artificially-propagated plants. Top commodities imported by the Region included live orchids and Swietenia macrophylla timber.

Species showing noteworthy trends

Twenty-one taxa were identified as showing noteworthy trends in wild-sourced trade from the Region, with two species exported at high volumes for commercial purposes (Strombus gigas and Cedrela odorata).

CITES trade data for the period 2003-2012, as reported by the Region, were analysed to identify taxa showing noteworthy patterns of exports. The selection process included direct exports reported as wild-sourced, ranched or source ‘unknown’, or reported without a source specified. Exports were considered noteworthy according to four criteria: high volume of trade over the five-year period 2008-2012, sharp increase in trade in 2012, overall increase or decrease in trade 2003-2012 and high variability in trade 2003-2012.

In total, 21 taxa were selected on the basis of high volume, sharp increase, overall decrease or high variability in trade by the Region. The majority (11) of taxa selected met the criteria on the basis of exports for scientific purposes; two species were selected on the basis of a high volume of trade that was primarily for commercial purposes (Strombus gigas and Cedrela odorata), with Swietenia macrophylla selected on the basis of high trade volumes of which the majority was reported without a purpose specified.

Shifts in trade over time

Overall, no major shifts in source were identified 2003-2012. Several of the top species in trade showed a notable shift in trade levels over time, with trade in Strombus gigas, Swietenia macrophylla and Iguana iguana decreasing, and trade in Cycas revoluta increasing.

Trends in direct exports from the Region over the ten-year period 2003-2012 were examined to identify shifts in the source of trade by taxonomic group and in particular species, as well as overall shifts in trade levels in particular species and higher taxa. The proportion of captive-bred/artificially-propagated trade transactions has shown a slight increase over time, while the average proportion of wild-sourced specimens has decreased slightly from 21% over the period 2003-2007 to 17% over the period 2008-2012.

No major shifts in source over time were identified within particular species or higher taxonomic groups. Amongst a number of species, notable shifts in trade volumes and apparent shifts between taxa were detected. Several of the top species in trade from the Region, in particular Strombus gigas, Swietenia macrophylla and Iguana iguana, showed a gradual decrease in trade over time, while trade in others, such as Cycas revoluta, appears to have increased.

Inconsistencies in reporting

Inconsistencies in reporting source codes explained differences in importer- and exporter-reported trade in live Iguana iguana and Cycas revoluta live plants and leaves. Many notable discrepancies could be attributed to other reporting issues.

Notable discrepancies between exporter- and importer-reported trade were examined to identify inconsistencies in reporting. Thirty-seven cases where trade was reported by both trading partners at the species or subspecies level were identified as showing a notable discrepancy. Notable discrepancies in reported source codes were identified in the data for both Iguana iguana and Cycas revoluta, with permit analyses suggesting that in many cases the same individuals in trade were reported as captive-bred/artificially propagated by one trading partner and wild-sourced by the other. Other discrepancies identified reflect common reporting issues including inconsistencies in the use of terms (e.g. live vs. roots) and units of measure, trade reported at different taxonomic levels and missing or incomplete annual report data.

Trade in species native to the Region by other countries

673 species native to the Region were recorded as direct exports by other countries. Native species with high levels of captive-bred/artificially propagated trade recorded from other countries included Crocodylus acutus (skins) and Opuntia species (live).

A total of 673 species native to the Region were recorded as direct exports by countries outside the Region over the period 2008-2012, of which 531 species were exported only by other countries. The Appendix I-listed species with the highest levels of captive-produced trade reported from countries outside the Region was Crocodylus acutus, with exports primarily comprising skins traded for commercial purposes from Colombia and Mexico; high volumes of trade in live Phragmipedium spp. primarily from Peru and Ecuador, and Falco peregrinus from several European countries, were also reported.  Appendix II- and III-listed species with notable levels of captive-produced, commercial trade from outside the Region included live Opuntia species exported primarily from Tunisia and China, live Hippocampus redi exported mainly from Sri Lanka, and live Pocillopora verrucosa exported primarily from Indonesia.

Species valuation

The value of direct exports from the Region of CITES-listed animals and animal products over the period 2003-2012 was estimated to exceed USD113 million based on trade recorded by the Region and USD209 million on the basis of trade recorded by trading partners.

To estimate the monetary value of exports of CITES-listed animal species, species-specific value data (collected on USFWS 3-177 forms and included within the United States annual reports to CITES), adjusted for inflation, were applied to direct export quantities from the Region. The value of direct exports of animals and animal products from the Region over the ten year period 2003-2012 was estimated at approximately USD113 million, based on exporter-reported data; the value estimated on the basis of importer-reported data was 86% higher (USD209 million),  reflecting the discrepancies in reported trade volumes between the Region and its trading partners. The value of CITES trade from the Region appears to have decreased over the period 2003-2012 overall.

Reptiles accounted for 61% of the total value of animal exports from the Region according to exporter-reported data, with invertebrates accounting for an additional 33%; top species and commodities in trade by value were Strombus gigas meat (~USD34 million), Caiman crocodilus leather products and skin pieces (~USD32 million) and live Iguana iguana (~USD23 million). Panama, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua together accounted for 95% of the total value of animal exports from the Region.

This analysis has been compiled with the aim of assisting Parties in improving implementation of the Convention to ensure that international trade in CITES-listed species is sustainable. The findings of the analysis have led to the formation of a number of specific recommendations relating to potential implementation issues, reporting practices and suggested areas for further work.

ImplementationReportingFurther work


A number of potential issues were identified relating to implementation of the Convention, as described below. It is important to note that discrepancies such as those described below may simply reflect errors in reporting; development of electronic permitting systems (discussed in more detail under “Further work”) could help CITES Authorities to minimise such errors. Certain discrepancies, for example in source codes, may be due to differences in interpretation of the provisions of the Convention by different Parties. It is worth highlighting that all Parties in the Region have national legislation in place that is designated as Category 1 under the National Legislation Project[1] (defined as legislation that is believed to generally meet the requirements for implementation of CITES).

1. Discrepancies in reporting the source of trade in Iguana iguana: A notable discrepancy was identified in the reporting of the source of trade in Iguana iguana from the Region, with Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States reporting imports of wild-sourced live animals that were reported by the exporter, El Salvador, as captive-bred. The reasons for this discrepancy should be investigated further with the Parties involved.

2. Correct reporting of Appendices: Incorrect CITES Appendix listings were recorded in annual reports for Appendix I-listed species such as Chelonia mydas and Eretmochelys imbricata, and Appendix II-listed species such as Agalychnis callidryas and Cacatua alba. Parties are encouraged to check the correct listing of a species in the CITES Appendices/CITES Checklist prior to issuing permits, particularly in the case of taxa with populations listed in different Appendices. The development of a webservice/API to provide national systems with direct access to up-to-date legal information from the CITES Checklist/Species+ would help to address these types of issues (see “Futher work”).

3. Species identification: Several discrepancies were identified where it appeared that the trading partners had reported different species names for the same transaction, in particular for transactions involving orchids and euphorbias. A review of the existing identification material available to Parties would help to highlight taxonomic groups for which more guidance on identification might be useful.


A number of issues were identified that relate to the quality and completeness of data recorded by Parties in their annual reports to CITES. The Guidelines for the preparation and submission of CITES annual reports[1] specifies the information that Parties should include in their reports. As has been highlighted in previous analyses[2], these data provide the basis for monitoring the implementation of the Convention and support key decision making, including the making of non-detriment findings. Accurate reporting is therefore key to the success of the Convention in ensuring that international trade in wildlife is sustainable.

4. Timely submission of reports: CITES Parties are encouraged to submit their annual reports by the 31 October deadline. At the time of writing (February 2014), three annual reports had not yet been received for 2012.

5. Basis of reporting: Annual reports should, whenever possible, be compiled on the basis of actual trade rather than on the basis of permits and certificates issued in order to avoid overestimation of trade volumes. The basis of reporting should be specified in the annual report. Four Parties in the Region consistently did not specify the basis on which their annual reports were compiled over the period 2003-2012.

6. Completeness of information included in reports: Details of the specimen description (term), trading partner, source and purpose of trade transactions provide important information for monitoring trade. However, several annual reports submitted by Parties in the Region either did not include full shipment details or included inadequate descriptions of commodities in trade, such as “plantas” (for various plant species) and “caracol gigante” (for Strombus gigas). Parties are encouraged to provide complete details for each shipment as specified within the Guidelines, preferably using the standard codes provided.

7. Term and unit combinations: Whenever possible, the preferred term and unit combinations included in the Guidelines should be used on permits and within annual reports. This standardises the data and allows for more meaningful analyses of trade. Inappropriate term and unit combinations reported by Parties in the Region most frequently included meat reported without units and skins reported by weight.

8. Thousand and decimal separators: The use of thousand separators in the quantity field in annual reports should be avoided, and use of either a comma or a point as a decimal separator should be consistent, to ensure that quantities are interpreted accurately.

9. Accepted nomenclature: Accepted scientific names for species should be used in annual reports, as opposed to synonyms or common names. Examples of synonyms recorded in annual reports submitted by Parties in the Region include Herpailurus yagouaroundi and Felis yagouaroundi (synonyms of Puma yagouaroundi). Trade recorded on permits under a synonym may lead to trade being permitted when there are quotas or suspensions in place for the species. The development of a webservice/API to provide national systems with direct access to up-to-date nomenclature information from the CITES Checklist/Species+ would help to address these types of issues (see “Further work”).

[2]For example CITES at 40: Perspectives, trade patterns and future prospects (CITES CoP16 Inf. 35).

Further work

The following areas were identified for potential further work, to contribute to improving implementation of the Convention and enhancing knowledge of the biological and economic impacts of trade in CITES-listed species.

10. New technologies: As highlighted in the report CITES at 40: Perspectives, trade patterns and future prospects[1] and at the Workshop on Capacity Building on New Information Technologies and Electronic Permitting for Central America and Dominican Republic, various new information and communication technologies are emerging that have the potential to provide radical improvements in monitoring levels of trade. One example is the development of electronic permitting systems, which have the potential to enable the monitoring of trade transactions in near-real time. Parties in the Region may wish to consider following up on the recommendations from the abovementioned workshop, including the development of future phases of the EPIX system.

The development of the Species+ portal and the database-driven CITES Checklist have provided CITES Authorities with easy access to up-to-date nomenclature, legal and other information on CITES-listed species. Parties may wish to consider the development of a webservice or Automated Programming Interface (API) to facilitate the automatic transfer of this information from the CITES Checklist/Species+ directly to national systems.

11. The value of trade in CITES-listed species: Further work is needed to better understand the economic value of international wildlife trade to the Region. A more accurate estimate of this value would strengthen the case for sustainable species use by making the contributions to national economies and livelihoods more explicit. In this context, a refined methodology could be applied to price data that are species-specific and take into account source and origin country, with the aim of assessing value at different points in the trade chain. It is recommended that Parties make available existing price datasets for species in trade; if such datasets are lacking, a systematic analysis of online price data may be needed to obtain a more accurate picture of the value of CITES trade.

12. High volumes of wild-sourced trade for commercial purposes: Two species identified as showing noteworthy trends in wild-sourced trade, Strombus gigas and Cedrela odorata, were selected on the basis of a high volume of wild-sourced trade that was primarily for commercial purposes. In addition, Swietenia macrophylla was selected on the basis of a high volume of wild-sourced trade of which the majority was reported without a purpose specified, but is likely to be for commercial purposes based on data reported by trading partners. Both Strombus gigas and Swietenia macrophylla have previously been included in the CITES Review of Significant Trade process. The impact of trade in these species on wild populations should continue to be monitored by the countries concerned to ensure that harvest is sustainable. The need to develop and implement comprehensive management plans for commonly traded species was highlighted in a previous report focusing on CITES implementation in the Region[2].

13. Trends in highly traded species: Several of the top species in trade from the Region, in particular Iguana iguana, Strombus gigas and Swietenia macrophylla, showed a gradual decrease in trade over time. Further investigation of the underlying causes of these trends, taking into account previous work such as relevant species reviews as part of the Review of Significant Trade process, may be useful in informing future management of these species.

14. Potentially under-utilised species: The analysis identified a number of species native to the Region that are exported in high volumes from countries outside the Region as either captive-bred or artificially propagated specimens. Furthermore, many species traded at high levels from the Region are not exported by all countries in the Region to which they are native. Sustainable use of such species that are potentially under-utilised has the potential to provide economic benefits and may in turn have a positive impact on the species concerned in terms of creating incentives for improved management.

15. National trade analyses: Parties in the Region are encouraged to conduct their own analyses of CITES trade at the national level on a regular basis, to inform species management and the making of non-detriment findings. The need to improve the scientific basis for the making of non-detriment findings, including regular monitoring of trade levels, was highlighted in a previous report[2] and at the regional non-detriment finding workshop held in El Salvador in September 2013.

16. Impact of non-wild trade on wild populations: The analysis highlighted that the majority of CITES trade from the Region is captive-bred and artificially propagated; as noted in a previous study[3], while trade from these sources may reduce pressure on wild populations, it may also remove incentives for local communities to manage wild populations sustainably. The impact that captive production of native species has had on wild populations, as well as on revenues and how these are distributed, could be investigated further. Countries in the Region are encouraged to share their experiences of the transition to captive production, for the benefit of other Parties.

[2]TRAFFIC (2009). Wildlife Trade Control: CAFTA-DR Regional Gap Analysis Report. TRAFFIC North America, Washington DC.

[3]TRAFFIC (2008). Halting biodiversity loss: towards sustainable wildlife trade in Central America. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.

[1] “Trade” in a CITES context refers to exports, imports, re-exports and introduction from the sea, for a variety of different purposes, including commercial purposes.