Illegal trafficking in endangered flora and fauna is a topic of great interest and concern. We hear a lot about elephant ivory, rhino horn, and even pangolin scales. It turns out that the most trafficked form of flora or fauna in the world is actually rosewood. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, rosewood is traded more than ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin scales put together as measured either by volume or economic value. According to Earthsight, a London-based nonprofit that investigates environmental crime, rosewood might account for 40% of overall illegal species trade.
Almost all rosewood is headed to China, where the beautiful wood is used in traditional hongmu furniture. A single bed made from particularly desirable Madagascar rosewood can cost a million dollars.
The illegal rosewood trade has decimated many species of the trees around the world. A tiny village in Madagascar has seen its population grow by 5,000 in recent years because of migrants coming to work as rosewood loggers. The rosewood trade has been banned in Madagascar for decades, but a well-established system of bribes has effectively eliminated that problem. Corruption at all levels allows Madagascar rosewood to find its way onto ships and off to China.
In 2017, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed all of the world’s rosewood species under its Appendix II, prohibiting all trade except in the rare cases where a local CITES authority issues sustainability permits.
As is the case for other trafficked endangered species, until the demand for the products disappears, people will find a way to make them available. And meanwhile, these beautiful trees are rapidly disappearing.
Photo, posted November 17, 2007, courtesy of Larry Jacobsen via Flickr.