CITES Standing Committee Meets in Geneva

The 66th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in Geneva, Switzerland, in mid-January, covered a wide range of important wildlife trade issues. Of particular note was a meeting involving representatives of the CITES secretariat and a number of animal protection organizations—catalyzed by Secretary-General John Scanlon’s call to increase consideration of animal welfare issues in international wildlife trade. AWI co-hosted this meeting and its wildlife biologist, DJ Schubert, spoke at the event.

Trade in elephants, rhinos, and tigers was subject to ongoing debate. Other less high-profile species—including pangolins, freshwater turtles, saiga antelope, cheetahs, sharks and rays, leopards, snakes, and totoaba—also received attention.

While poaching continues to threaten elephants in Africa and Asia, a proposed “Decision Making Mechanism” to legalize ivory trade will likely be terminated at the upcoming CITES 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17), as most governments recognize the folly of considering a legal ivory trade while poachers continue to mass-slaughter elephants. Notably, it was reported that more countries are destroying their ivory stockpiles, the latest being Sri Lanka in late January.

Parties with captive tiger populations were asked to review national management practices and controls to ensure parts and products from captive tigers are not entering trade. Parties were asked to heighten security concerning imported rhino horns (i.e., from museum specimens or sport-hunted trophies) in order to ensure that such horns are not entering the black market trade. Unfortunately, with 1,175 rhinos poached in South Africa in 2015, much more needs to be done to stop this poaching frenzy. What won’t help is a rumored proposal by South Africa to legalize the trade in rhino horn.

The Standing Committee agreed to a resolution on pangolins—the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world—a first step toward reigning in the unsustainable trade in this species. Ultimately, all eight species of pangolin deserve to be listed on CITES Appendix I (which prohibits commercial trade) and, hopefully, a proposal to provide that protection will be submitted for consideration at COP17. Serious concerns were also expressed about the illegal trade in freshwater turtles and the need for governments, particularly in Asia, to better enforce existing laws to protect these species.

Although CITES is often reluctant to recommend trade sanctions to compel compliance with its rules, at this meeting, trade sanctions were imposed against Liberia, Guinea Bissau, and Venezuela for failing to adequately implement the treaty. Unfortunately, 88 countries don’t yet have adequate laws implementing CITES, thereby undermining its integrity. Angola and Laos are also now subject to sanctions for failing to submit progress reports on their National Ivory Action Plans (plans required to counter the illegal ivory trade). Another 14 countries, including Panama, the Central African Republic, Mongolia, and the Solomon Islands, have failed to submit required annual reports for three consecutive years, but were given another 60 days to comply rather than having trade sanctions imposed.

Decisions made at COP17 will have lasting consequences. AWI will be in South Africa for the meeting, pushing for stronger efforts to combat the menace of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.