Unraveling CITES CoP17: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
As the week came to a close, so does the world largest Wildlife conference, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP17, where government officials, NGOs, scientists, journalists and 34 youth representatives gathered to discuss the future of the world's most endangered wildlife.
Haled as a game changer by John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, a Conference of Parties "that will be remembered as a point in history when the tide turned in favor of ensuring the survival of our most vulnerable wildlife".
The parties voted on 62 species-listing proposals, countless working documents, discussing law enforcement efforts and demand reduction strategies, as well as participating in numerous side events on topics such as the existing illegal trade in the totoaba swim bladders affecting vaquita porpoise populations in Mexico and of course empowering youth as future conservation leaders.
But all this talk can be confusing, what do all these resolutions and decisions mean? What will actually happen now to individual species and animals across the world?
The (Quick) Breakdown
The way CITES operates is that each of it government delegations from 183 member countries get a vote on proposed changes to wildlife trade practices. On a species level, these votes revolve around whether or not to include said species on one of the CITES Appendices (see below). Each country's vote counts as one vote, either a Yes, No or Abstain. NGOs, scientists and other governments can lobby the key decision makers during these debates.
Appendix I: Listing a species in this appendix grants it the highest level of international protection. No trade is permitted across international boarders unless in strict non-commercial circumstances such as for scientific research.
Appendix II: Species on this list are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled. CITES export permits are required to trade in specimens of these species and 'look-alike species' (species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons).
There were some substantial victories for conservationist this year, many lesser known species received a great deal of attention and the highest level of protection, including:
- From the ocean thresher sharks, are now listed on Appendix II. Ensuring that all fins that are traded internationally are from sustainably managed fisheries that do not harm wild populations, a great win also local communities in the Philippines that rely on these species for sustainable income through ecotourism. Silky sharks and devil rays were also granted the same protection.
- From the skies African Grey parrots were transferred to Appendix I. Trapping for the pet trade and habitat destruction has decimated this species and wild numbers have plummeted. Captive bred populations can still be traded if registered with CITES, but this must be closely monitored.
- Pangolins were overwhelmingly supported as all 8 species received Appendix I protection, this is a critical step towards saving the world's most trafficked mammal as now it eliminates uncertainty for law enforcement officials, a problem before when only the 4 Asian species held a zero export quota. It is almost impossible to tell what pangolin species are being traded when they are only found as loose scales or raw meat.
- Following shortly after came the up-listing of Barbary macaques, Europe's only non-human primate threatened by poaching and the exotic pet trade, another unanimous vote.
The Cape mountain zebra was down-listed to Appendix II because off the recognition in great conservation successes and environmental management, an increase to well over 5000 individuals from a mere 100, 20 years ago.
The highly charged debate over legalizing nearly 730 pounds of Rhino horn from farmed harvests and illegally confiscated stockpiles proposed by Swaziland, came to a halt as allowing a legal trade was overwhelmingly rejected (by 70% of the voting party). It was rejected on the basis that it would undermine international and domestic bans encouraging consumption and provide a cover for laundering illegally harvested horn from poached rhinos.
SIDE NOTE: With 62 proposals on the table, there is a whole world of species that were discussed at CITES such as the peregrine falcon, the earless monitor lizard and the psychedelic rock gecko all receiving or maintaining some level of protection. As SKIN AND BONES aims to highlight trade in not only the highly debated wildlife species but in other, less charismatic species we will be delveing deeper down to explore the stories and threats behind these animals.
Unfortunately there were a few losses to be had, and the King of the jungle, African lions, was one of them. Whilst a number of Decisions were adopted to improve lion conservation, including a zero quota export of wild lion bones for commercial purposes, the Appendix I proposal set forth by a coalition of ten African range countries was stopped by pro-traders and pro-trophy hunters from ever being voted on.
Whilst a zero export quota may sound like a good idea, all it really does is cover up the real issue of a lucrative lion bone trade from captive lions. Without a total ban, not even wild populations are protected as any legal trade will stipulate demand and provide an opportunity for criminals to launder illegal bones through a legal bone market.
This is not only a loss for lions but for tigers also as when sold in Asian markets, lion bones are sold as tiger, 'exacerbating the demand for tiger parts in a rapidly expanding and completely unchecked market for tiger bone wine'. - EIA team
A pretty devastating outcome of Big Cats everywhere.
The Ugly (Truth)
Although exhausted many departed South Africa with an overwhelming sense of optimism for the future of wildlife.
The huge changes made to international law and policy are quite remarkable and it would be amazing to sign off on these Appendices and trade would stop immediately. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way.
These words must now turn to actions.
A great example case for this is the helmeted hornbill, despite the species having an Appendix I listing since 1975 and being fully protected under Chinese law and across all its range states in South East Asia, the bird is still found in illicit markets and traded internationally for commercial use. Recognizing this Government parties at CITES CoP17 took action, calling for stricter enforcement and collaborative conservation methods from all range and consumer nations to prevent the extinction of the helmted hornbill.
Is it more pencil pushing or will crucial government actions follow? Will the helmeted hornbill and other highly traded species become conservation success' or disappear forever? Wildlife conservation is complex, but we will not give up yet, there are some fantastic, passionate people and organizations working on the ground bringing innovative conservation ideas that need our support.
The fight is not over.
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