IFAW Celebrates Leap in Wildlife Conservation at 16th CITES Conference, as EU Plays Mixed Role

Thursday, March 14, 2013
Bangkok, Thailand

As the 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok comes to a close, IFAW is celebrating an historic CoP that left polar bears in the cold but brought additional protection to an unprecedented number of species.

In addition to numerous positive results the tone and level of the discussion, which has been rancorous in the past, was largely constructive. The EU played a mixed role – submitting two successful proposals to help conserve sharks while failing to support a proposal to ban the trade in polar bear parts.

The polar bear, as one of the world’s most iconic species, was under particular scrutiny as the bear was proposed for an Appendix I listing effectively banning the international commercial trade. “By abstaining from such a critical vote the EU has seriously discredited its position on conservation and biodiversity issues as well as having helped bring the extinction of polar bears a step closer,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW’s EU Director. “We knew before this year’s conference that a majority of EU member states, including the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, supported the proposal but they have been forced into abstaining because the European Commission refused to support it.”

 “I’ve noticed two big shifts at this CITES CoP” says Azzedine Downes, CEO and President of IFAW and head of IFAW’s CITES delegation. “First, things are shifting towards the precautionary principle. When in doubt people are choosing conservation. Second, delegates are talking about the first solution-oriented CoP in a long time and IFAW is proud to contribute to that.”

The largest victory for animals at this year’s CoP was likely the three proposals to uplist five shark species, two of which were submitted by Denmark on behalf of the EU. “We are delighted that the EU has played a part in this victory for shark conservation,” says Sonja Van Tichelen. “It means that five shark species – the porbeagle, whitetip and 3 species of hammerhead - will be included in Appendix II of CITES which will help regulate the international trade in their products and make sure that it is managed in a biologically sustainable way.”

 “IFAW will begin to work immediately to organize workshops to ensure the proper implementation of these new shark regulations,” said IFAW CEO and President Azzedine Downes.

For elephants developments came in the form of smaller, more incremental improvements such as requiring countries to send samples from large ivory seizures to established forensic analysis facilities. This will help trace the smuggling route of the ivory and track down those responsible. Ivory consuming nations such as Thailand mall and China are encouraged to engage in consumer awareness campaigns that will educate the public about ivory trade laws and reduce demand for ivory. Ensuring hunting trophies containing elephant ivory cannot be illegally laundered using an exemption to the CITES permit regime for personal and household items as well as delaying the creation of a Decision-making Mechanism to govern future ivory trade until at least CoP17 in 2016.

“These developments will not stop the current poaching crisis that is killing up to 25,000 elephants per year but they will help and they should save some elephants,” says IFAW’s Jason Bell, Elephant Program Director. “We continue to urge more countries to donate to the African Elephant Fund to pay for the Plan’s implementation.”

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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