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Big-leaf mahogany, plundered treasure of the Amazon

Because of its hard wood, big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is historically one of the most valuable species in the international timber trade.

Its popularity and reputation for beauty and durability made trade in this wood soar worldwide  - as sawn wood, plywood, veneer, and finished furniture products.

Due to concern over the impact of this trade on its wild populations, big leaf mahogany was listed under CITES, the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of fauna and flora.

The tree is often selectively removed from the forest and regeneration is slow due to insufficient forest canopy openings and the number of trees that can produce seeds for regeneration.

For these reasons and also because of intensive felling, most of the Central American, Mexican and Caribbean forests have already been depleted of mahogany.

The situation regarding the species is also dire in South America. In Bolivia, mahogany is almost commercially extinct and Brazil now has a moratorium on export of the species.

As a result, 90% of the mahogany being imported into the US today is coming from the Peruvian Amazon. There, illegal harvesting, a lack of respect for rule of law, corruption, and the structure of the timber industry, involving small loggers and indigenous communities has allowed a mahogany "cartel" to develop which controls access rights to forests.

WWF/TRAFFIC supported the successful inclusion of big-leaf mahogany to CITES Appendix II in 2002, after 10 years of efforts.

Appendix II concerns international trade in species whose survival in the wild may be threatened if levels of trade are not regulated.

WWF Press Release. 13 Nov 2002. CITES: Historic Victory for mahogany.
WWF Feature Story. 23 Jan 2002. Green gold and the potentials of the 'lesser known'. index.cfm?uNewsID=2460

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