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DATE: June 26, 2019

SNIP: Although there are no specific estimates for Senegal, the number of seahorses traded in West Africa has risen dramatically over the past few years, reaching about 600,000 animals exported last year, according to the marine conservation charity Project Seahorse.

“There are essentially two avenues for trafficking, both linked to seafood trade with Asia, particularly China,” said Andres Cisneros, a researcher who carried out fieldwork in Senegal for the NGO in 2015.

The black market for illegal wildlife products, such as seahorses, is worth up to €18 billion ($20 billion) per year, with poaching continuing to grow and pushing many species to the brink of extinction, according to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

A report by the leading wildlife charity Traffic found that seahorses made up 24.4% of the total marine products confiscated from traffickers in the air transport sector between 2009 and 2017 globally. A single seizure could contain up to 20,000 seahorses valued at more than €8.8 each.

“All but three of the marine product trafficking instances originating in Africa (that were analyzed as part of the report) were destined for China and Vietnam,” it said.

Researchers believe that demand from China is behind the increasing trade in seahorses and other vulnerable species. They are valued in traditional Chinese medicine as a source of virility and are believed to cure a wide spectrum of ailments including asthma, insomnia and heart disease.

Seahorses are often dried and ground into a powder, and added by Chinese consumers to rice wine, tea or soup. The country’s billion-strong population means a national appetite for any product can have an enormous impact.

The West African seahorse (Hippocampus algiricus), which swims in the waters off the West African coast from Senegal to Angola, has been particularly neglected and is at serious risk of extinction.