Over 100 countries have voted for stricter trade regulations of the endangered smooth-coated and small-clawed otter. Now, the two species are going to be listed under Annex I of the CITES. As they were endangered because of illegal trade, this uplisting was very important. Convention on the International Trade with Endangered Species (CITES) is a crucial international legislation tool to prevent illegal wildlife trade. Now, the trade with the two species will be even more difficult, hopefully leading to its reduction.
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The smooth-coated otter and the small-clawed otter live in south and south-east Asia and they are both Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Illegal otter trade is a significant problem in Asia, especially due to high demands on the Chinese market. There are four different species living in the region – besides the smooth-coated otter also small-clawed otter, Eurasian otter and hair-nosed otter. It is very hard to differentiate between them, thus making trade control much more difficult.
Otter trade mostly focuses on hunting for skins for which there is a high demand in China, India and Nepal. However, otters are becoming more and more popular as pets, especially in Japan. There, otter cafes are trendy in large cities, where visitors can meet captive otters. The high number online advertisements of otters on sale also reflects the increasing demand.
However, an additional problem with otter protection in Asian countries is the lack onf sufficient national legislation to protect it. India, the Philippines, Lao and Myanmar do not have sufficient national legislation to meet the requirements of CITES implementation even for the current level of otter trade regulations. Furhtermore, in Indonesia and Cambodia the otters are not a protected species, making them very vulnerable to hunting.
Hopefully, the new ban on otter trade sends a strong message to the international community that otter trade is inacceptable. Thus, we can hope that the demand for otter fur and pets will drop. However, what is even more important is that the countries with illegal otter trade strongly step up to protect the species. They can do that by having stricter national legislations and enforcing international legislation.