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Overexploitation to meet commercial demands has threatened the existence of many species. In theory, one can adopt a portfolio of policies and measures from both the supply (i.e., encourage cultivation while punishing poaching) and demand (i.e., education of consumers) sides to achieve sustainable use. Here we examine the effects of governmental policies and measures towards the utilization of Aquilaria sinensis, a threatened species with high cultural and economic values. We found that, despite national protected status and a suite of government initiatives and granted projects to implement cultivation of the species, poaching persisted and even intensified. From the consumer side, current cultural education related to the species was not coupled with equally strong conservation education, which might have inadvertently reinforced the notion that wild-sourced materials are better, and facilitated a luxury goods-like market for wild products. It appeared that the current government portfolio of initiatives was highly skewed towards utilization, and therefore not effective for promoting the long term ecological persistence of the species. This finding is likely not unique to A. sinensis, nor limited to China. A more balanced portfolio of government initiatives to include stronger and more direct conservation measures towards highly exploited species is needed to achieve sustainable use of this species and related species.


Originally published in Sustainability.

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