Illegal export of endangered species continues

Despite a government ban, mahogany exploitation continues in Brazil

Feature story - 28 October, 2002
One year ago we uncovered a stash of illegal mahogany in the Brazilian Amazon worth over US$7 million. The seizure of these logs and continued investigations by the government led to a ban on the logging, transport and export of mahogany. But today the trade continues, and if not stopped, it is only a matter of time before the species becomes extinct.

Worm's eye view of a mahogany tree in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil

Mahogany continues to be illegally felled in the Amazon and exported to countries including the US, the UK and Spain under cover of counterfeit documents, even though exploitation, transport and trade has technically been prohibited in Brazil since October, 2001.

Last week Jornal Nacional, the main news program of the giant Brazilian TV network Globo, revealed that mahogany, one of the most valuable and endangered species of timber in the world, could face extinction if illegal exploitation is not curtailed.

The Jornal Nacional story followed a bust by the Environmental Police of Para State of four trucks carrying 120 cubic meters of mahogany in Belem. The mahogany, coming from São Felix do Xingu in Para state, was accompanied by forged documents stating that it was cedorana, a different species.

More worrying than the rampant illegal trade of mahogany is the other destruction that comes along with its logging. High quality mahogany is only found in pristine areas of Amazon rainforest, so the illegal mahogany trade is directly responsible for the destruction of these areas as it leaves behind a network of roads and trails that other loggers can use to access the remaining forest.

Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator says the mahogany ban isn't working. "The seizure of this mahogany shows that Brazil cannot control illegal exploitation and trade of this species, and that the existing mechanisms - whether in the forest, at Brazilian ports or when the timber arrives in importing countries - do not work," said Paulo. "Brazil has once again proven that one country alone cannot ensure protection of an endangered species when it has a high value on the international market."

In June 2001 Greenpeace asked the Brazilian government to conduct a full investigation of the ports traditionally used to export mahogany, and supplied the authorities with documented evidence of export fraud, tax evasion, perjury, and false witness. In April 2002 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso assured the Brazilian nation, in a widely broadcast radio speech that, "When I proclaim that the government will do everything within its power to protect mahogany, I am giving a guarantee that its extraction, exploitation, shipping and trade continue to be forbidden."

But the only way to regulate the market is to include mahogany on the list of endangered species for which trade is strictly controlled by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). A meeting of this convention in early November will discuss a proposal presented by Nicaragua and Guatemala to list mahogany on Appendix II. This would make the presentation of proof that mahogany was legally harvested and that the exploitation does not threat the survival of the species mandatory. The listing makes both importers and exporters legally responsible.

"Despite firm promises made by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso that his government will take strong measures to protect mahogany, so far Brazil has not supported the Nicaraguan proposal, which already has the backing of many other countries," says Paulo. "Will the government take real action to fulfil these promises, or will Cardoso go on record as the man who presided over the destruction of the Amazon and the extinction of its most treasured species?"

Take action!

You can help put pressure on the Brazilian government to support the listing of Mahogany on CITES Appendix II and show the international community that the exploitation and marketing of "green gold" of the rainforest can happen without plundering the future of the Amazon or the millions of people that depend on it.

Send a fax to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso asking him to support the listing of mahogany, but also to take a leading role in guaranteeing the proposal is approved.

Discuss it

You can discuss this article and the mahogany issue on the Greenpeace cybercentre

Read More

Amazon Mahogany Criminals Busted - US $7 million of 'green gold' seized 31 October 2001

Greenpeace's Partners in Mahogany Crime report