SCIENTIFIC NAME: Swietenia macrophylla
HABITAT: Neotropical forests
LIFE HISTORY: One of only three true mahogany species, and the only one still exploited for trade. (Other two commercially extinct.) Slow-growing; takes 55 to 120 years to reach commercial size.Can grow to 500 feet.
THREATS: Illegal logging
RANGE: Central and South America from southern Mexico to Brazil
CURRENT POPULATION: Unknown
The United States is the world's largest importer of mahogany, one of the most commercially valuable tree species in the world. One subspecies, big leaf mahogany, is native to Central and South America, and the wholesale stripping of Latin American forests has resulted in the loss of about 70 percent of these slow-growing trees.
Big leaf mahogany is already commercially extinct in much of Central America. In 2002, NRDC used the Endangered Species Act to help influence the U.S. government to support increased international protections for the trees under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Illegal logging is still rampant in South America, however, especially in Peru.
In 2004, NRDC launched a campaign to stop illegal mahogany trade from Peru into the United States and joined Peruvian indigenous groups to bring a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act to halt U.S. imports of mahogany until Peru complies with CITES and demonstrates that the species is being harvested legally and sustainably.
Responding to international pressure and concern for the species, Peru reduced its level of exports by nearly 90 percent in 2007. Appropriate chain of custody controls and enforcement mechanisms are still needed to ensure that mahogany and other tropical tree species are protected from illegal logging.
Illegal logging threatens not only the survival of mahogany but that of other species, such as giant otters, which depend on healthy forest habitat.