Analysis April 2022: Seeing the wood for the trees


With the Brazilian police ramping up its efforts to combat pernambuco trafficking, what could the effects be on the international bow trade? By Peter Somerford

An ongoing criminal investigation in Brazil into the illegal trafficking of pernambuco has highlighted the continuing threat to a species prized by bow makers and string players around the world. At the end of November 2021 Brazil’s federal police launched an operation to gather evidence in the fight against criminal elements profiting from the international sale of bows made from illegally sourced pernambuco. Twenty search warrants were issued and executed in the south-eastern state of Espírito Santo, but no details of any arrests or charges have so far been released.

The police operation was supported by agents from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and also officials from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the US being one of the major destinations for Brazilian bows made with illegally sourced pernambuco. According to the police, their investigation began after inspections carried out by IBAMA led to the seizure of more than 42,000 bow sticks and 150 short pernambuco logs. In 2018, in an operation targeting nine companies in Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais and São Paulo, IBAMA agents seized 20,800 violin bows, dismantled an illegal sawmill and issued fines totalling BRL9.7m (£1.4m)

Pernambuco, or pau brasil, is Brazil’s national tree and has been listed as an endangered plant species by IBAMA since 1992. Various replanting initiatives have been undertaken, including a programme by the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI), an association founded by leading bow makers, which has been responsible for planting more than 250,000 seedlings since 2005. But with trees taking 30 to 40 years to produce heartwood suitable for bow making, conservation and protection remain a priority, especially as the tree’s natural habitat, the coastal Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) is under pressure from urbanisation and commercial activity. In 2007 CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) recognised the need for closer controls on the international trade in pernambuco by adding the wood to its Appendix II listing, meaning that any exports must have appropriate CITES documentation issued by Brazilian authorities. Importantly, however, the listing included an annotation exempting finished products, such as violin bows.

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