RECENT DECISIONS IN THE CONVENTION ON THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES EXPOSED A RIFT BETWEEN THOSE WHO VIEW WILDLIFE AS A RESOURCE AND THOSE WHO WANT TO PREVENT EXPLOITATION. JAMES FAIR REPORTS ON THE WINNERS AND LOSERS.
Impact of CITES’ decisions on endangered species
Odds on a resumption of the legal ivory trade have receded. The issue of how to reverse the massive escalation in the poaching of elephants for their tusks dominated the conference.
Two countries – Namibia and Zimbabwe – requested the right to legally trade in ivory stockpiles but this was defeated, while Botswana said it will voluntarily treat its elephants as having a greater level of protection than they actually do.
According to Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation, this was important. “Botswana has one third of Africa’s elephants, and this was delivered at ministerial level with all the clout that this gives,” he said.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said a resolution calling on countries to shut down their domestic ivory markets was also highly significant. Prof Jonathan Baillie described it as “an important moment in turning the situation around for Africa’s elephants”.
CITES de elegates also decided to abandon all discussions of whether – in the future – the interna ational ivory trade willw ever be re-opened d.
The discus ssions at this year’s CITESC were very diffe ferent from ones being held back in the late 1980s, said Travers, when the concept of sustainable use of ivory was widely accepted.
“This could start a longterm discussion that will move us from being exploiters to guardians of wildlife,” he said.
So-called scaly anteaters are targeted for scales and meat. Pangolins have received the highest protection possible under CITES, with trade in all eight species now banned.
Conservationists describe pangolins as the most trafficked mammals in the world – it’s been estimated that at least 1 million individuals have been traded for their meat and scales since 2000.
Listing on Appendix I of CITES won’t automatically end trade because enforcement in many of the consumer countries of South-east Asia and the Far East is weak.
Theoretically, all international trade in the four Asian speciesp was already illegal, but it was still taking place in large quantities.
The situation was confusing enforcement efforts, said Dan Challender, of the IUCN’s Pangolin Specialist Group. “Now it’s unambiguous – wild-caught pangolins cannot be traded internationally for commercial purposes from either Africa or Asia,” he added.
But if these listings lead to prices rising, that could increase poaching.p “We need to monitor the impact on markets and prices, trad de dynamics and pangolin pop pulations,” Challender said.
AFRICANAF GREY PARROTSPA
Onc ce widespread birds badly imp pacted by the pet trade. One e of the most heavily traded bird ds in the world, the African grey parrot has been uplisted to Appendix I of the convention.
This means all trade in wild birds is now banned.
Native to Central Africa, it is popular as a pet in Europe, the USA and the Middle-East.
An estimated 1 million birds were taken from the wild in the 1980s and 90s, with those in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) heavily targeted. The ban was opposed by the DRC, but experts say too many are being harvested and populations are declining.
Timber species valued as furniture are given protection. The listing on Appendix II of more than 250 tree and shrub species from the Dalbergia genus shows how attitudes within CITES have changed.
David Newton, of the wildlife-trade monitoring group Traffic, said it was very hard to get timber listed – and trade regulated – when he attended the CITES meeting in 2002.
“I think there is a new acceptance that timber species need to be listed,” he said.
Dalbergia wood is shipped to China as ‘rosewood’ or ‘hongmu’ and made into furniture and musical instruments.
With all species listed on Appendix II, exporting countries
will have to carry out a “nondetriment finding” to show that trade is not having a negative impact on the survival of the species in the wild. But Newton warned that many countries have a lot of work to do to get the appropriate governance in place.
Trade in lion bones may lead to increased poaching, critics say. South Africa has been allowed to continue to breed lions in captivity for their body parts after this year’s conference.
Countries were asked to consider banning all trade in their bones by transferring lions from Appendix II to Appendix I but this was rejected.
Conservationists say this is an ever-increasing market. Between 2008 and 2014, it’s estimated that 4,900 lions’ worth of bones were exported to Asia for use in products ultimately marketed as containing tiger bones.
While most of these come from captive-breeding operations in South Africa – the so-called canned-hunting industry – critics say it allows for wild lions to be targeted.
“As long as loopholes exist that permit captive-bred lions to be farmed, we will see an escalation in wild African cats being killed for the same markets,” said Dr Luke Hunter of the big cat conservation group Panthera.
Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said a lion carcass in Mozambique was now worth up to $1,500 at the supply end. “People are being apprehended with lions parts,” he said.
And while Travers accepted this is not the biggest issue facing the species – habitat loss and persecution are – he added: “That’s irrelevant. CITES confines itself to international trade, and it has to pay attention to what it is competent to do.”
Arguments around legalising horn trade have not gone away. A proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horn from Swaziland was heavily defeated this year, with 100 delegates voting against, 26 in favour and 17 abstentions.
This doesn’t mean the debate around whether permitting limited and regulated trade in horn would help conserve rhinos in Africa has disappeared.
According to Katherine Johnston of Save the Rhino International, shortcomings in the Swaziland proposal were highlighted in a report published by the IUCN and the wildlifetrade monitoring group Traffic.
The report said the proposal lacked detail on how trade would be controlled and who the trading partners would be.
Nevertheless, it has played a role in highlighting the issue. “The proposal was symptomatic of a wide rift between animal welfare and pro-sustainable use organisations which need to find some common ground,” she said.
There were also discussions about whether one key consumer country, China, should be more dilegent about reporting its progess in reducing demand.
Demand reduction worked in the past, according to Save the Rhino, for South Korea and Taiwan, which were major horn consumers in the 1980s and 90s.
Small victories for those opposed to tiger farming. The poaching of tigers for their bones, skins and claws continues to be an issue, and conservationists insist that the illegal trade is fuelled by the existence of tiger farms in China, Laos and Thailand.
The Wildlife Protection Society of India says at least 36 tigers were killed in India for their body parts in the first six months of 2016 – a 40 per cent rise on the total for all of 2015.
Conservation groups say tiger farms exacerbate demand. “Governments made it clear they see trade in the parts of captivebred tigers as a threat to wild tigers, because it fuels desirability for them,” said Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Two developments at the conference have made tiger farming – whereby tigers are bred so body parts can be sold – marginally less appealing.
First, delegates rejected a call from the Chinese that CITES end its opposition to tiger farming. An agreement reached in 2007 that tiger farms should be phased out is therefore still in place, though it isn’t binding.
Second, Laos PDR announced it will close its tiger farms. It has three main facilities with 700 tigers, according to the EIA.
But Banks said the decision not to ban the internationalaoa trade in bones from captivebred lions was a bloww to big cat conservation everywhere. here.
“There is a massive, unchecked, unchallenged market t for tiger bone wine,” she said. “You see it everywhere, and nobody ody is challenging it in terms rms of demand reduction.”.”
Silky and thresher sharks and devil rays given protection. The listing of shark species, so that any legal trade in their meat or fins is regulated, is becoming more accepted by parties to CITES.
Porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, all three species of hammerhead shark and all manta rays were put onto Appendix II in 2014, while seven species of sawfish were similarly listed in 2007.
And this year, proposals for the silky shark, all three species of thresher shark and nine species of mobula (or devil) ray to be given protection under Appendix II were approved.
Ali Hood, director of conservation of the Shark Trust, said that sharks have not been treated with the same level of concern as other marine spec species es takena for consumption, such as wh white fish, tuna or bill billfish, but that this wa was now changing. Ho However, some nations are still o opposed to the use of CITES as a way of regulating the trade in sharks, she said. “In our view view, CITES is part of a wider jigsawj of the effort required to secure a sustainable future for t them,” she added.
Illegal exploitation of hardwoods is the largest component of the illegal wildlife trade and worth up to $7bn a year.
Ivory poaching has reduced African elephant populations by an estimated 30 per cent in seven years. Pangolins are now fully protected under CITES, but will this reduce the high levels of trade?
Too many African grey parrots are taken for the pet trade.
The bones of lions bred for the canned hunting industry are sold into Asian markets and are ultimately made into products marketed as tiger bone wine.
A proposal to open up the international trade in rhino horn was defeated.