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Why we want to give CITES teeth

 

Over two a day. That’s how many rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa this year. Their horns likely destined for illegal markets in Asia, mostly in Vietnam.

Two black rhinos grazing.Black rhinos grazing; by banning the trade in rhino parts – including their horn – CITES aims to protect these majestic and endangered species. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is often considered one of, if not the most effective international environment agreements.

It seems contradictory to put those paragraphs together though. If CITES is working properly, why are we seeing the worst poaching and trafficking of wildlife products on record?

Well, put simply, it’s not working as it should. Member governments sign up to CITES commitments that tackle the illegal wildlife trade in species like rhinos, elephants and tigers, but they aren’t implementing them all. It can be so frustrating knowing that the solutions are there, but they aren’t being delivered. This often comes down to a lack of political will.

But there is hope. CITES has the ability to impose trade suspensions for countries that are non-compliant, and that’s a strong motivating factor. Such suspensions would mean no trade in specimens, parts or products of species listed by CITES with those countries.

Just about to go into the CITES pre-meeting. © WWF-UK

That can have a huge financial impact, so those countries have a very strong economic reason to implement their commitments to CITES in order to have those suspensions lifted.

The CITES Parties (the 178 governments signed up) don’t impose trade suspensions lightly. WWF doesn’t ask for them without great deliberation either.

However, with the poaching crisis we’re facing now, WWF is calling on governments to hold to account those countries consistently failing on their responsibilities to protect elephants and rhinos from trafficking.

Our global campaign on illegal wildlife trade is reaching a peak here in Bangkok, Thailand. The next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES is going to start here on Sunday. Running to 14 March, it’s going to be a frantic, busy, and exhausting couple of weeks; talking to government delegates, other non-government organisations, experts and media.

I’m an optimist, and I have high hopes for positive outcomes here at CITES CoP16. Rhinos, elephants, tigers and the many other species impacted by international illegal trade can’t afford for anything less.

I’ll blog more as issues develop and decisions are made – hopefully with positive news – and you can follow the action on Twitter. Don’t forget to support our campaign by signing our petition to ban all ivory trade in Thailand.

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