- Asian appetite is killing Africa’s wildlife and also threatening the Mukula rosewood.
- The mukula rosewood (Pterocarpus tinctorius) is found in Central and Southern Africa.
- Rosewood furniture represents prestige and affluence in Chinese society
another Asian appetite is killing Africa’s wildlife and placing yet another species on the endangered list. This time it is not an animal but a tree – Africa’s Mukula rosewood.
Two years ago, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) sat together in Geneva and granted protection to several tree species adding them to the binding global wildlife treaty.
Among the new species to be regulated are mukula rosewood (Pterocarpus tinctorius), found in Central and Southern Africa, the critically endangered mulanje cedar from Malawi (Widdringtonia whytei) and the widely traded Spanish cedar genus (Cedrela spp.).
As determined at the meeting, there is a rapid decline of Africa’s rosewood trees and as such, all of the 183 countries that make up CITES agreed at the 18th Conference of the Parties to include the species on Appendix II in order to regulate its international trade and protect it from extinction.
Thanks to the CITES resolution, these endangered species can only be traded internationally with a special CITES permit. Getting this permit requires following a set of measures that assure the timber is harvested legally and its harvest does not threaten species survival in the forest.
All governments were given three months to comply and put in place all necessary measures in to adhere to the Convention. However, as all coveted precious materials, rosewood is especially a target for illegal trafficking to fill China’s enormous appetite for endangered wood.
China’s demand for rosewood is to meet the country’s rich society’s need for status. Rosewood furniture represents prestige and affluence in Chinese society. To meet this demand, consumers are willing to pay top dollar and as a result, traders are willing to break the law.
In this case, the renowned and most coveted rosewood is locally known as mukula, and illegal logging of mukula is now threatening the species across the continent.
“Asian timber trafficking networks have been plundering Africa’s forests for years to export this valuable timber, despite bans in both Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In its investigation Scheduled Extinction: Our Last Chance to Protect the Threatened African Mukula Trees, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) US warned that without international regulation to control the trade, the mukula tree will be driven to extinction in the next two to five years,” warned a report that was presented at the CITES CoP18.
Feeding the demon: 200 mukula trucks nabbed
Most recently, Zambia’s High Commission confirmed that it was forced to seize some 200 Tanzanian trucks for illegal logging of the coveted mukula rosewood.
“We have seized over 200 trucks laden with logs because Tanzanian drivers didn’t have legal documents and transportation permits to show that the logs were indeed from the Democratic Republic of Congo as claimed; we will only release the trucks after they show the relevant documents,” the Zambian executive said.
His counterpart Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Zambia, Hassan Simba Yahya is quoted by local media as saying the issue is to be resolved diplomatically after the truckers failed to present valid permits for the transportation of the protected rosewood.
In 2016, Zambia banned the felling and transporting of rosewood timber which is in growing demand in Asia. In 2018, Zambia Revenue Authority seized at least 250 trucks that were found carrying the protected timber.
It is now two months since the trucks were seized and the matter remains unresolved. Commenting on the issue, Chairman of the Tanzania Medium and Small Truck Owners Association (TMSTOA) Chuki Shaaban, maintained that, “They were seized despite the fact that our drivers produced genuine documents showing that the logs had been transported from the DRC. It has now been close to two months since our lorries were impounded.”
Mukula Cartel: The Rosewood International Criminal Syndicates
While Zambia and Tanzania seek diplomatic solutions to the alleged illegal transportation of 200 trucks filled with the protected mukula rosewood, the EIA has released a report detailing its investigation into what it calls the “Mukula Cartel.”
The report cited several African countries as the source of mukula rosewood feeding the world’s illegal market. The report points at several high government officials in the countries, including Zambia. The report also calls for instituting a zero export quota on mukula; however, two years down the road after the CITES resolution, much remains to be desired on a commitment to upholding the protection of mukula trees.
The report raised serious concern about the implementation of the recent international protection granted to the threatened mukula tree by the CITES.
As of the sitting of the CITES back in 2019, the EIA estimates that over 50 40-foot containers of mukula logs had been illegally exported every single month between 2017 and 2019, and that investigation focused on Zambia alone.
In the words of Lisa Handy, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA-US: “If not dismantled, the mukula cartel has the power to derail the international protection granted to these rare African trees. This will result in a continued assault against fragile forests and rural communities.”
According to the high ranking delegate, “…the mukula cartel’s operations are driven by international demand almost exclusively from China.” However, or rather because of the fact that China is the destination of these mukula rosewoods, it only makes sense that this world power has the financial and military muscle to stamp out the mukula cartel.
As the Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA-US points out, “…China has a unique opportunity to stop rosewood trafficking networks and to protect the world’s threatened forests by prohibiting import of illegal timber.