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CITES CoP: more species, more action


I am one of over 2,500 people in Johannesburg, South Africa, meeting to discuss the biggest issues around the illegal trade in wildlife. The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) has begun.

It will be a busy meeting attended by more governments and with more things to discuss on the agenda than ever before. Very illustrative of the complexities and challenges we face. On Friday, I attended the meeting of the committee which oversees the operations of CITES in the three year period between CoPs – Standing Committee. At this meeting we have already had some important and encouraging decisions.


Smuggled Tiger Cub © WWF-Canon / James MorganSmuggled Tiger Cub © WWF-Canon / James Morgan

Laos announced they would discuss ways to phase out their tiger farms. This was after facing criticism in three new reports from CITES and TRAFFIC for their involvement in illegal trade. Whilst they didn’t outright say they would definitely close the farms as a result we’re hoping that this will be the outcome.

This is because WWF is calling for a closure of such tiger facilities across Asia that are, or intend to be, involved in tiger trade. Trade from these farms fuel demand and hamper enforcement, which means tigers in the wild face more threat from poaching. So we hope the CoP will agree the Standing Committee’s recommendations that such facilities will have greater scrutiny and tighter controls.


Seized poacher's weapons and poached ivory, Gabon. Copyright: James Morgan.Seized poacher’s weapons and poached ivory, Gabon. Copyright: James Morgan.

Elephants are always a big topic of discussion at CITES CoPs and this time is no different. Gabon and Cameroon are two of 19 countries that have developed National Ivory Action Plans (NIAPs) to tackle the illegal ivory trade. The Standing Committee on Friday agreed the two countries have failed to report on progress in their implementation giving Gabon and Cameroon 30 days to report on real action to deliver their NIAPs, or they could face sanctions.

This is where CITES has the power to restrict international trade in species that are legal to trade under CITES with a system of permits. And this can mean a huge economic blow as sustainable and profitable trade in reptiles for the pet trade or plants for ornamental use (and much more!) is completely stopped.

But back to NIAPs, as they provide a mechanism to really help address the illegal ivory trade. We’ve seen much progress in Thailand, for example, where, by following their NIAP, they’ve tightened controls on domestic ivory markets. Good progress has been made there, but much more is still needed (more on this later in the meeting).

At the CoP, we want discussions to focus on a process to help other key countries implement their NIAPs effectively.  The problem is elephant ivory trade is a highly contentious issue and we could see a lot of attention paid to discussions, which whilst well meaning, may not have the positive impact that they intend. This BBC article reports on the other issues that could unintentionally hinder progress at this CoP.


Doreen - rhino ranger, Kenya © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UKDoreen – rhino ranger, Kenya © Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance / WWF-UK

Meanwhile discussions on rhino horn trade in Standing Committee made some positive progress, including a process that could result in sanctions against Vietnam at the committee’s meeting next year. The spotlight is now on Vietnam as the largest demand country for rhino horn. They must report convincing progress in addressing its illegal rhino horn trade or they may face trade suspensions. At the CoP we want to see other key issues also addressed like fake rhino horn, DNA analyses and strengthening enforcement for rhino horn trade.

So much more will be discussed at CoP, including other specific species including pangolins, totoaba, thresher sharks, silky sharks and devil rays, as well as issues including corruption, demand reduction and synthetics.

I’ll be here with a great team of experts, and we’ll be reporting more on the highs and lows from the coming days.

Hopefully we will be able to share some great successes with you.

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