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Countries exporting the most endangered species to America

  • Countries exporting the most endangered species to America

    Human activity of all kinds is putting pressure on the species that share our planet. We bulldoze the land they live on to build homes and plant crops, we dump trash into the water they live in, we pollute the air they breathe, and we are changing the climate that entire ecosystems are built around.

    Humans have also always made use of animals for a wide range of purposes—some fairly basic to our survival, and others far less practical. Meat to eat, leather to wear, feathers for decoration, sea life for curios and jewelry, just to name a few. We still use the products of wild animals for all of these uses and increasingly they’re also collected for the exotic pet trade.

    Some of the items in the following slideshow aren’t as bad as they look. You’ll see sturgeon over and over again—that’s the fish that produces caviar. Caviar is so lucrative that restrictions on fishing for sturgeon inspired an industry that raises them in captivity for their precious eggs.

    This kind of legal trade has its downsides, however; whenever there’s a legal way to sell an animal product, there’s the risk of criminals using that to whitewash the products of poaching. For example, while international trade in elephant ivory is banned, antiques are still allowed to be sold in some places, and the risk that products from today’s elephants will be passed off as antiques has inspired some countries to pass stricter rules, as the U.K. did recently. It’s also important to remember that there’s also a huge amount of trade in wildlife products that is just plain outside the law. Our figures, from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Trade Database, do not account for the thousands of items smuggled into the U.S. illegally every year.

    To examine the importation of endangered species to the U.S., Stacker consulted the CITES Trade Database and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. We found the top 50 countries that have exported the most endangered animal species (in the form of live animals as well as animal products) to the U.S. between 2008–2018, according to importer/exporter reported quantity. Endangered species here are species listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. For each country, we give the top three species exported to the U.S. and the total number of specimens imported.

    You may also like: Most imported endangered animals to America

  • #50. Republic of Moldova

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 13,122 (12 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Russian sturgeon (Scientific name: Acipenser gueldenstaedtii; Quantity: 8,872; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Sterlet (Scientific name: Acipenser ruthenus; Quantity: 4,250; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Beluga (Scientific name: Huso huso; Quantity: 1; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: commercial)

    Sturgeon have existed for more than 250 million years, preceding and long outliving the dinosaurs. We’ve been eating their eggs for a long time, too—at least since 2400 B.C.—and it’s looking like our appetite for caviar may be their downfall. Partly due to overfishing in the Republic of Moldova, sturgeon are now among the most threatened animals on earth: 85% are now at risk of extinction.

    [Pictured: White sturgeon caviar, Honolulu, HI]

  • #49. El Salvador

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 13,402 (22 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Hawksbill turtle (Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata; Quantity: 9,170; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Green turtle (Scientific name: Chelonia mydas; Quantity: 3,491; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Central Asian tortoise (Scientific name: Testudo horsfieldii; Quantity: 625; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: commercial)

    One of El Salvador’s rarest of species is the hawksbill turtle, which has been harvested since ancient times to make prized tortoiseshell jewelry, combs and brushes, and other ornamental objects. European traders started fishing for them in the Carribean and Central America in the mid-17th century. Despite a ban on international trade that was implemented in 1977, due to their plummeting numbers, domestic use is still permitted in some countries, and illegal trade continues.

  • #48. Palau

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 14,091 (77 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Smooth giant clam (Scientific name: Tridacna derasa; Quantity: 12,930; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: shells; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Serpent coral (Scientific name: Pachyseris rugosa; Quantity: 564; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: raw corals; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Acropora aspera (Scientific name: Acropora aspera; Quantity: 366; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: scientific)

    Poor Acropora aspera doesn’t even have a common English name, but that’s the least of its problems. This coral is subject to all the threats that affect coral reefs like bleaching, ocean warming, and the disappearance of its habitat. In Palau, it’s also preyed on by the crown of thorns starfish, a spiny sea star that sometimes attacks coral reefs in huge numbers.

    [Pictured: Tridacna maxima clam, Palau]

  • #47. Russian Federation

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 15,765 (121 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Siberian sturgeon (Scientific name: Acipenser baerii; Quantity: 5,808; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Beluga (Scientific name: Huso huso; Quantity: 4,878; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: personal)
    --- Russian sturgeon (Scientific name: Acipenser gueldenstaedtii; Quantity: 1,453; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: caviar; Top purpose: personal)

    Russia is a leader in restocking sturgeon, with over a billion young released from their fish farms recently. They’ve also banned fishing for wild sturgeon since 2007, with punishment including up to three years in prison. Unfortunately, many of the last remaining natural spawning population of the Russian sturgeon are nevertheless poached in the area of the Volgograd dam, which blocks their migration and is responsible for the loss of 90% of the spawning grounds of the Beluga sturgeon.

  • #46. Democratic Republic of the Congo

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 16,448 (36 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Eastern gorilla (Scientific name: Gorilla beringei; Quantity: 11,026; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Bonobo (Scientific name: Pan paniscus; Quantity: 3,622; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Chimpanzee (Scientific name: Pan troglodytes; Quantity: 1,092; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)

    Hunting for their gorilla meat, a luxury food among wealthy urbanites in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the biggest threat to this species. Gorilla body parts are also used in traditional medicine and as magical charms. Juveniles are taken alive to be sold as pets to private owners, which often involves killing several members of a family group. All of this is illegal at national and international levels, but enforcement is insufficient partly due to war and unrest in the area, and government corruption.

    [Pictured: Eastern Lowland gorilla of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo]

  • #45. Nicaragua

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 17,697 (53 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Hawksbill turtle (Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata; Quantity: 13,980; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Isostichopus fuscus (Scientific name: Isostichopus fuscus; Quantity: 2,373; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: bodies; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Green turtle (Scientific name: Chelonia mydas; Quantity: 870; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)

    Isostichopus fuscus, the brown sea cucumber, isn't a particularly attractive little creature. But they're a valuable cash crop in many places like Nicaragua because of their importance in Chinese culture, where the brown sea cucumber is served for special occasions. 

    [Pictured: Green sea turtle in Biscayne National Park]

  • #44. Ukraine

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 17,970 (60 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Central Asian tortoise (Scientific name: Testudo horsfieldii; Quantity: 16,300; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Polar bear (Scientific name: Ursus maritimus; Quantity: 320; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: derivatives; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Beluga (Scientific name: Huso huso; Quantity: 301; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: eggs; Top purpose: personal)

    Polar bears are the poster child for the environmental impact of climate change. They’re classed as vulnerable specifically because of the continuing loss of sea ice. Elsewhere in Ukraine, the fate of the Central Asian tortoise and beluga are also of chief concern among environmentalists.

    [Pictured: Polar bear, Nikolaev Zoo, Ukraine]

  • #43. Federated States of Micronesia

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 18,403 (53 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Smooth giant clam (Scientific name: Tridacna derasa; Quantity: 14,809; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Tipped bubblegum coral (Scientific name: Physogyra lichtensteini; Quantity: 1,600; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: commercial)
    --- Giant clam (Scientific name: Tridacna gigas; Quantity: 1,000; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: live; Top purpose: commercial)

    Giant clams are popular for saltwater aquariums, a hobby that was once reserved for specialists, but it has exploded in popularity with the availability of improved equipment. This trade is putting increasing pressure on invertebrates like clams and coral in areas like the Federated States of Micronesia.

    [Pictured: Federated States of Micronesia landscape]

  • #42. Cambodia

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 19,468 (70 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- White-rumped vulture (Scientific name: Gyps bengalensis; Quantity: 6,218; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: feathers; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Slender-billed vulture (Scientific name: Gyps tenuirostris; Quantity: 5,126; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: feathers; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Red-headed vulture (Scientific name: Sarcogyps calvus; Quantity: 3,300; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: feathers; Top purpose: scientific)

    One of the major threats to vultures in Cambodia is the veterinary drug diclofenac. It is fatal to vultures that feed on the carcasses of animals that were treated with this drug. In an important development, the government of Cambodia recently banned the sale and use of diclofenac.

    [Pictured: White-rumped vulture]

  • #41. Bahamas

    - Total specimens exported to the U.S., 2008-2018: 20,194 (148 shipments)
    - Top endangered animals exported:
    --- Andros Island Iguana (Scientific name: Cyclura cychlura; Quantity: 6,438; Red list status: vulnerable; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Green turtle (Scientific name: Chelonia mydas; Quantity: 5,895; Red list status: endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: scientific)
    --- Hawksbill turtle (Scientific name: Eretmochelys imbricata; Quantity: 2,011; Red list status: critically endangered; Top animal/product type: specimens; Top purpose: personal)

    The Andros Island iguana is hunted for food, but it’s also captured for the pet trade in the Bahamas. The iguana’s habitat is being degraded by human influence including logging, development, and feral domestic animals like dogs, hogs, and goats. The population has declined severely—at least by 50%—over the past 60 years.

    [Pictured: Andros Island, Bahamas]

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