CITES Bangkok: navigating complicated policy waters in pursuit of a better future for wildlife

The IFAW team urges governments to base their decisions on the "precautionary approach" and to always respect wildlife welfare.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) will be held in Bangkok, Thailand this March.

At the CITES CoP16 conference 177 countries will decide whether many animal and plant species deserve more or less protection from the threats of international trade.

Seventy listing-proposals and numerous other related topics will be discussed at 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).

Held in Bangkok from 3rd – 14th March, 2013, CoP16 the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) will participate and advocate for good decisions based on ecological sustainability and humane treatment for animals.

With our depth of animal welfare expertise, our IFAW team will urge governments to base their decisions on the "precautionary approach" and to always respect wildlife welfare.

Below, for your review, a rundown of some of the main proposals for protecting wildlife under CITES the team will focus on, including so-called listing proposals (sharks and polar bears), others of a more technical or strategic nature in regards to specific species (e.g. elephants, tigers) and those of a more global scope (e.g. wildlife trade on the internet, wildlife trade law enforcement or the strategic vision of CITES ).

Elephants

It is fortunate there are no proposals on the table to decrease the protection level of any elephant population which could possibly allow for international trade in ivory.

This is the first time in over 20 years that no such proposal is on the agenda, which means more time to focus our precious resources on other animal welfare conservation issues.

This welcome news was made possible only after Tanzania withdrew their ill-conceived proposal back in December. 

Make no mistake, important elephant issues will still be discussed, including increased enforcement efforts to combat elephant poaching and illicit ivory trade, and the conditions under which ivory trade could be allowed in the future.

However any ivory trade decision must be postponed until elephant range states successfully implement a plan to protect elephants where they live, in particular to halt the killing of elephants for the illegal trade in ivory.

Parties also need to add focus on demand reduction from the growing Chinese  consumer base and other Asian markets in lieu of engaging in heated rhetorical debates about short-term profits from elephant ivory.

Sharks

A staggering 100 million sharks are potentially fished from the ocean each year, many quickly thrown overboard without their fins and left to die according to experts.

We must reverse the wake of ecological damage being done where these keystone predatory species perform their vital food chain functions.

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

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

Polar Bears

Three years ago, at CoP15, a similar proposal by the USA to protect the polar bear with an uplisting to Appendix I failed.

A number of stakeholders wanted to single out the major threat from climate change as the one and only to be addressed, ignoring the killing of this amazing animal by hunters for trade is an additional threat. This is no excuse to prevent the listing to Appendix 1 of CITES, rather the opposite: banning international trade in polar bear products is the most effective measure the world can take to instantly generate positive impact.

Tigers

At CoP16, we will again call for much needed national plans on how to eventually phase out tiger farming.

The IFAW team will further ask the Secretariat to bring the relevant enforcement institutions together for the review of available intelligence on known and suspected wildlife criminals engaged in tiger and leopard trade, with a view to facilitate targeted national and international enforcement operations. Further, we will urge the Parties to maintain reporting requirements and press for compliance.

E-commerce (wildlife trade over the internet)

The Internet has become the world’s biggest marketplace, one that is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is as unregulated and anonymous as it is immense, providing easy opportunities for criminal activity. It is a marketplace in which the illicit trade in wildlife is conducted as many IFAW investigations have shown.

IFAW welcomes the proposed continuation of the E-Commerce Working Group, which is due to meet at the CITES Standing Committee 63, as well as the contributions to enforcement that have been made by a number of Parties to CITES.

While it is still unclear what steps, if any, many Parties to CITES have taken to implement Res. Conf 11.3 in relation to online wildlife crime, given the sheer scale of the trade in wildlife products online and the very real threat this poses to CITES protected species, the IFAW team will be strongly urging the Parties to work with their local enforcement agencies to implement Res. Conf. 11.3 (Rev. CoP15).

In this respect, we encourage Parties to adopt the Recommendations proposed in COP16 Doc. 45 and focus on implementation thereafter.

As you can see, while many of these issues are morally simple for many who may be reading this post, each are politically complicated affairs wrapped in years of traditional nationalistic behaviour, governmental maneuvering and longstanding cultural moors. 

Affecting rapid change will be no simple task, but the team will endeavor to persevere! We will also be working on a number of issues that don’t necessarily generate headlines but are important for helping wildlife.

For more details on species specific issues, download our delegate background briefing documents.

--PP

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, 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