CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – apparently, also known as the Washington Convention) is a treaty whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild. Enacted in 1975, it offers varying degrees of protection to approx. 28 000 plant species.
The trouble is that the organisms ‘covered’ by CITES are – by definition – endangered and often in short supply. Consequently – sadly, economics applies in the biological arena as well as more human-sociological ones – those biologics are often in high demand, as ornaments, etc, in homes, offices, conference venues… So a CITES tag can actually be viewed as a price tag, the more highly endangered – and ‘cited’ – the organism, the more valuable. And there are ne’er do wells in the world for whom trade in such exotic taxa is a very lucrative business (allegedly).
Keeping a lid on this aspect of the black economy is difficult and policing the movements of the affected organisms is not necessarily the world’s number one priority. However, a relatively recent innovative procedure may just help to track such portable commodities as expensive botanics. Andrea Luvisi et al. expound on the merits of embedding microchips within ornamental shrubs (HortTechnology 20: 1037–1042, 2010). Developing the concept with roses they found that such shrubs should be safelytagged – internally – with a RFID (radiofrequency identification) microchip as early as the nursery phase, and without negative effects on plant appearance. We look forward to this being rolled out to more endangered plants in the near future. And let’s hope this news is timely enough to help the 75 vascular plants (along with 13 amphibians, 17 beetles, 81 crayfish, and 6 non-vascular plants…) whose endangered/protected status in the USA – under its own Endangered Species Act – is due to be reviewed by the United States’ Fish and Wildlife Service (26 Sept. 2011 news release). Hmm, chips with everything? Now you’re talking!