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Calling time on illegal wildlife trade

 

Yesterday the world’s biggest wildlife trade meeting finished, early.  The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) was scheduled to close tomorrow.  But yesterday’s business was quickly dispatched, with the plenary session quickly confirming the decisions made in the two committees of the CoP.

Seized Shipment of Illegal African Elephant Tusks, Thailand. Copyright: WWF-Canon / James MorganSeized Shipment of Illegal African Elephant Tusks, Thailand. Copyright: WWF-Canon / James Morgan

This early hiatus can be taken as further demonstration that this conference has been carried out in the spirit of cooperation – at least as much as governments discussing complex trade issues can!  So many more of the decisions were made by consensus than by votes in the four CoPs that I have been to.  And once you’ve got all 182 Parties agreeing altogether once, it’s easier to run through and confirm those decisions in plenary.

But there have certainly been some heated debates about very high profile issues, such as elephant ivory trade.  There was a proposal to ‘uplist’ some elephant populations so all sit on ‘Appendix I’, supposedly giving them greater protection, that could in fact have backfired.  There is an existing ban on international ivory trade. Had the proposal been accepted individual governments could have said they wouldn’t comply with the new listing – Namibia said as much.  This would have allowed legal international ivory trade. And that could have been catastrophic.

When 20,000 to 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers each year, we needed to focus on controlling the illegal ivory trade, not removing the ban. Thankfully we were able to make good progress in this regard, agreeing to strengthen the National Ivory Action Plan process that has already shown some progress, and to close domestic ivory markets that are contributing to the poaching.

Two black rhinosBlack rhinos grazing. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Opening trade in rhino horn also was proposed, but thankfully this too was not agreed.  Instead CITES required Vietnam and Mozambique – most implicated in the illegal trade – to take serious action to stop the trafficking or face sanctions next year.  To help stop tiger trafficking CITES agreed to increase controls and scrutiny on tiger farms that are fuelling the trade. WWF will be working to ensure CITES continues the positive momentum from this conference to hold these countries to account for the commitments they made.

While elephants, rhinos and tigers are always in the spotlight at CITES, it was good to see some issues being discussed under their own agenda items for the first time.  The importance of reducing demand by consumers of illegal wildlife products, and separately to the need to address the involvement of corruption in the wildlife trafficking, are topics that needed this focused attention.

There was success for marine species too. CITES agreed to focus more attention on the trade in totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is sought by Chinese markets for medicinal use.  Sadly this is not only impacting on this endangered species, but also the world’s smallest porpoise, the critically endangered vaquita, is being caught in nets targeting the totoaba.  Plus silky and thresher sharks and devil rays are now protected under CITES, demonstrating that this convention can help to counter the overexploitation which is severely impacting these species.

So there is much to celebrate tonight.  But the hard work will continue tomorrow to make sure these agreements on paper will be turned into real action on the ground.  WWF will be working with governments and other organisations to keep fighting to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

To learn more about the work that WWF undertakes on addressing illegal wildlife trade

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