A vic­tory for wildlife

The lat­est meet­ing of CITES has pledged to con­serve the last re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions of wild species threat­ened by il­le­gal in­ter­na­tional trade


A num­ber of land­mark de­ci­sions on pro­tect­ing dif­fer­ent wild species were taken at the re­cently con­cluded CITES CoP in Johannesburg

THECONFERENCE has been a game changer that will be re­mem­bered as a point in his­tory when the tide turned in favour of en­sur­ing the sur­vival of our most vul­ner­a­ble wildlife, said John E Scan­lon, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( cites) as its 17th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties (CoP 17) drew to a clo­sure in Johannesburg on Oc­to­ber 5. The meet­ing saw key de­ci­sions taken on species that were hith­erto not in the lime­light.

While charis­matic species, such as lions and ele­phants, fan­cied by wildlife traders con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate de­bates at the CoP 17, lesser-known species like pan­golins, hel­meted horn­bill and rose­wood, which were not in the fore­front at pre­vi­ous CoPs, were also dis­cussed at length and the par­ties agreed to dras­tic mo­tions to con­serve their re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions.

In to­tal, 152 coun­tries took de­ci­sion on 62 pro­pos­als sub­mit­ted for up­grad­ing the pro­tec­tion sta­tus of species in the ap­pendi- ces of cites. Par­ties ac­cepted 51 of the pro­pos­als and re­jected five, while the re­main­ing were with­drawn.

Pan­golins get star pro­tec­tion

One of the most cel­e­brated de­ci­sions at the CoP 17 was to list all the eight species of pan­golins on Ap­pendix I, which of­fers the max­i­mum pro­tec­tion to a species and pro­hibits its com­mer­cial trade. Two of these en­dan­gered species are en­demic to In­dia.

The de­ci­sion was taken in view of sud­den spurt in the il­le­gal trade of the world’s most poached mam­mal. Over a mil­lion pan­golins have been traf­ficked il­le­gally from the wild in the past decade to feed the de­mands from China and Vietnam. Its meat is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy, while pan­golin scales are used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine as they are be­lieved to treat a range of ail­ments from asthma to rheuma­tism and arthri­tis.

Hail­ing the move at CoP 17, Ginette Hem­ley, World Wide Fund for Na­ture’s head of del­e­ga­tion to the con­fer­ence, said,

“This is a huge win... for some of the world’s most traf­ficked and en­dan­gered an­i­mals. Giv­ing pan­golins full pro­tec­tion un­der cites will elim­i­nate any ques­tion about le­gal­ity of trade, mak­ing it harder for crim­i­nals to traf­fic them and in­creas­ing the con­se­quences for those who do.” How­ever, Hem­ley cau­tioned, “We need to strengthen anti-poach­ing and anti-traf­fick­ing ef­forts, and con­tinue to re­duce de­mand for il­le­gal wildlife prod­ucts in coun­tries like China and Vietnam.”

Sta­tus quo in big species club

Un­like pre­vi­ous CoPs, the tra­di­tional favourites of con­ser­va­tion­ists failed to im­press the Par­ties this time.

Ele­phant poach­ing for ivory, for in­stance, have al­ways been high on the agenda of cites, and CoP 17 was no dif­fer­ent. Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, some African na­tions, in­clud­ing Namibia and Zim­babwe, de­manded the rights to sell their ivory stock­piles ac­crued from nat­u­ral deaths of the an­i­mal and poach­ing seizures. The pro­ceeds from the sales, they ar­gued, would be used to fund wildlife con­ser­va­tion projects. Ja­pan and Hong Kong, which are the fi­nal mar­kets for ivory, sup­ported this de­mand. But the Par­ties shot down the de­mand, putting a ban on the do­mes­tic ivory trade.

As the do­mes­tic ivory mar­kets re­main closed, it will pre­vent fur­ther laun­der­ing of il­le­gal ivory through le­gal sys­tems, says Su­san Lieber­man, vice-pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Pol­icy at Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety. How­ever, the de­ci­sion was not per­fect. All ivory mar­kets con­trib­ute to il­le­gal trade and poach­ing. There will be in­creased fo­cus on coun­tries that are a prob­lem for ivory traf­fick­ing, par­tic­u­larly im­port­ing coun­tries—and they will be pres­sured to close their mar­kets, she adds.

The CoP also saw Swazi­land propos­ing that it be al­lowed to sell its 300 kg of rhino horn from ex­ist­ing stock­piles as well as another 20 kg that it har­vests ev­ery year. The del­e­gates claimed that the pro­ceeds from the sales would be used in anti-poach­ing and rhino con­ser­va­tion. The pro­posal was re­jected by the cites mem­bers with con­ser­va­tion­ists ar­gu­ing that a le­gal trade in rhino horn would pro­vide a mech­a­nism for laun­der­ing yet more horn from poached rhi­nos into the trade.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists, how­ever, were dis­ap­pointed when the Par­ties voted not to ban com­mer­cial trade in African lion parts. Fur­ther­more, con­ser­va­tion­ists were an­tic­i­pat­ing that the lions be up­graded from Ap­pendix II to Ap­pendix I, but it was over­ruled. In­stead, the Par­ties sought es­tab­lish­ing a “zero an­nual ex­port quota” for bones, claws and teeth re­moved from the dead car­casses of wild African lions. South Africa will be obliged to es­tab­lish an­nual ex­port quo­tas for trade in lion parts from its cap­tive breed­ing op­er­a­tions and re­port to cites each year, as it is the only coun­try that trades in parts of cap­tive-bred lions.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists warn that the le­gal market for the parts of cap­tive-bred South African lions could pro­vide in­cen­tives for poach­ers to laun­der bones of wild lions. The move par­tic­u­larly puts Asi­atic lions found in In­dia at peril. Lion bones are highly sought-af­ter in Asia for use in tra­di­tional medicines and as a sub­sti­tute for the bones of tigers. Since Asian lion parts are not eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able from those of its African coun­ter­parts with­out a dna anal­y­sis, wildlife bi­ol­o­gists say poach­ers will tar­get Asi­atic lions. “Less than 20,000 lions are now left in the wild. Yet, the par­ties only agreed to the ab­so­lute min­i­mum steps to pro­tect them,” said Masha Kalin­ina, in­ter­na­tional trade pol­icy spe­cial­ist with Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional, usa.

Then there are oth­ers who view the con­fer­ence as a ma­jor suc­cess for wildlife con­ser­va­tion. “Sci­ence and wildlife con­ser­va­tion pre­vailed at cites CoP17,” says Lieber­man. “The de­ci­sions made by the gath­er­ing coun­tries were based on the best avail­able sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion. Fur­ther, we were en­cour­aged that gov­ern­ments fully em­braced the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple by mak­ing de­ci­sions in the best in­ter­est of the species in the wild. Af­ter at­tend­ing 11 CoPs, I strongly be­lieve this was among the most suc­cess­ful CoPs ever for wildlife,” she adds.

With cross-bor­der wildlife trade es­ti­mated at US $19 bil­lion a year and le­gal trade at $300 bil­lion a year, there is a grow­ing need for pro­tect­ing en­dan­gered species. “Il­le­gal trade of ev­ery­thing from hel­meted horn­bill to the hundreds of species of rose­wood severely dam­ages our planet, and it’s only through the in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion we have seen un­der cites that we can pre­vent it,” says Erik Sol­heim, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme. Scan­lon says cites is now an in­dis­pens­able tool for achiev­ing the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals. For now, the con­ser­va­tion­ists can cel­e­brate the suc­cess of cites CoP17 with op­ti­mism for fu­ture.

The CITES Sec­re­tariat team at CoP17

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