On World Animal Day, we need strong proposals for wildlife protection at CITES

Proposals for items to be taken up by the 16th meeting of the Convention of the Parties (CoP16) to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March, 2013 are due today.

With reverence to today being World Animal Day, here’s a rundown of some proposals for protecting wildlife under CITES that we hope to see – along with a few that we hope not to see as well:

Elephants

For the first time in over 20 years, we might not have to fight about proposals to allow ivory trade at a CITES CoP.  Unfortunately, this is largely due to the fact that elephant poaching has once again reached epidemic proportions, and most Parties and stakeholders agree that debates about legal ivory trade must be put aside until elephant range states can come together and implement a plan to protect elephants and stop the illegal ivory trade. 

Tanzania, which submitted an ivory trade proposal at CoP15 in 2010, has already stated publicly that it will not resubmit this year.  Zambia, the other proposing party in 2010, has kept tight-lipped, but either way, many Parties and experts including those at IFAW say that ivory trade proposals are DOA given the current crisis.

Though anything can happen when elephants are concerned – and last minute ivory trade proposals could still come in under the radar – this may be a golden opportunity for Parties to finally focus on protecting elephants where they live and reducing demand for ivory in China and other consuming markets instead of engaging in heated political debates about elephants and short-term profits from ivory.   

No matter what happens at CITES, these things must happen soon if we are going stop the slaughter.   

Sharks

The cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning – catching sharks and hacking off their fins before throwing the still-alive animal overboard – has grown in recent years thanks to increasing demand for shark-fin soup, a delicacy in many parts of Asia. 

Some shark species have declined as much as 80 percent and others have virtually disappeared in the past decade, thanks in-part to finning, but also to over-fishing, ocean habitat destruction, and bycatch in the quest for other commercially valuable fish.  A staggering 100 million sharks are taken from the ocean each year, according to experts.

Thankfully, we expect several courageous Parties to again propose increased protection for several of the most vulnerable species, including hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and others. 

We say “courageous” because the CITES Convention of the Parties has been down this road before, only to be met with stifling opposition from Japan, China, and other nations who used economic arguments to override clear and compelling science in favor of conservation.

Hopefully this time around, common sense and conservation values will prevail.

Polar Bears

CITES places species on Appendix I – the highest level of protection – if they are in danger of extinction and are or may be affected by international trade. In addition to massive habitat loss from climate change, polar bears face a soaring and unsustainable trade in their parts for rugs and other novelty items.  

Scientists predict that most polar bear populations will be gone in 40 years if current trends continue. 

So an Appendix I listing is an easy decision, right? 

Wrong. 

At CoP15, a proposal by the U.S. to list polar bears on Appendix I failed, likely because the debate was dominated by conversations about climate politics and economic development instead of science. 

While these issues are important, they are not relevant to the listing criteria agreed to by all the parties to CITES.  

Since the 2010 vote, the situation for polar bears has become even more precarious.  Arctic sea ice cover – habitat vital for polar bear survival – was just recorded at an all-time low, and as a perverse result, polar bear pelts are now selling for all-time high amounts due to the increasing rarity of the species. 

Polar bears clearly meet the criteria for listing on Appendix I. Hopefully the U.S. will re-propose and all Parties will see fit to give polar bears the CITES protection they deserve. 

E-commerce

IFAW has been a leader on the issue of Internet trade in wildlife for over 10 years.  As the online marketplace has grown, so too has our commitment to making sure the World Wide Web doesn’t become a haven for wildlife criminals. 

At CoP15, IFAW-supported resolution language calling on all countries to make sure their domestic wildlife trade legislation was sufficient to combat wildlife crime was agreed to by the Parties.

Since that time, IFAW has continued to investigate the Internet trade in ivory and other wildlife products, including follow up investigations in Europe, China, and the Middle East.  Our work has led to marketplace-driven bans on ivory, rhino horn, shark fins, and other endangered wildlife, along with strengthened policies against wildlife crime in China, United Arab Emirates, and the Czech Republic, among others. 

 

What’s become even clearer, though, is that more must be done.  IFAW is hoping that the Parties to CITES will propose and pass even stronger language making specific recommendations on what legislation against online wildlife crime should look like at CoP16.

Tigers

IFAW’s groundbreaking 2007 report “Made in China: Farming Tigers to Extinction” exposed the truth about massive tiger farms in China and the threat they pose to the world’s last surviving wild tigers.  Later that year, the Parties to CITES agreed to a decision that said “countries should not breed tigers for the trade of their parts and derivatives”.

At every meeting since that time, Parties have been asking China, along with Vietnam and other countries with large-scale tiger breeding facilities, to report on their progress in implementing the decision.  So far no report is forthcoming.   

In July, 2012, the CITES Standing Committee went further, asking China and other parties with “intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale” to fully implement the decision and to report their total number of breeding operations and tigers, along with information on stockpiles of tiger parts and derivatives being kept, to the CITES Secretariat by Sept. 25, 2012.

IFAW hopes that such reports were submitted, and that the reports contain detailed information about plans to reduce breeding of tigers for the eventual phase out of tiger farms. Evidences show that the illegal trade of tiger parts from farms continue to stimulate market demand and threatens the survival of the remaining tigers in the wild.

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While the International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working with key countries and stakeholders for years now to advocate for proposals that will help protect endangered animals from the threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade, it’s ultimately up to the Parties to the treaty to take action.

--PT

NOTE: Tanzania proposed a stockpile sale of over 100 tons of ivory to China and Japan on October 4, 2012.  As of October 10, 2012, Zambia had not submitted an ivory stockpile sale proposal. - ED

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia