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CITES conference responds to extinction crisis by strengthening international trade regime for wildlife

GENEVA, AUGUST 29 – The triennial World Wildlife Conference, known formally as CoP18 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), concludes yesterday after adopting a long list of decisions advancing the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife across the globe.

Attended by 169 member governments (including Italy, plus the EU), the Conference revised the trade rules for dozens of wildlife species that are threatened by unstainable trade linked to overharvesting, overfishing or overhunting. These ranged from commercially valuable fish and trees to charismatic mammals such as giraffes to amphibians and reptiles sold as exotic pets.

Continuing the trend of using CITES trade quotas and permits to promote sustainable commercial fisheries, the conference decided to add 18 more shark species to Appendix II. They included blacknose and sharpnose guitarfishes, which are highly valued for their fins and considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Shortfin and longfin mako sharks, together with white-spotted and other species of wedgefishes, were also listed in Appendix II.

Other marine species addressed by the conference included eels, teatfish (sea cucumber), queen conch, marine turtles, precious corals, sturgeons and seahorses. Governments furthermore agreed to examine the trade in live ornamental marine fish to assess what role CITES could or should play in regulating this trade.

Tropical timber trees comprise another wildlife market of high commercial value. Responding to high and increasing demand for African teak from western Africa, CITES broadened the need for trade permits to include plywood and other forms.  Malawi’s national tree, the rare Mulanje cedar, and the slow-growing mukula tree (a type of rosewood) of southern and eastern Africa, were also added to Appendix II. All Latin American species of cedar were listed in Appendix II.

The conference amended an earlier Appendix II listing of rosewoods and related tree species to ensure that small finished items, including musical instruments, parts and accessories, could be carried across borders without the need for CITES permits.

Noting that giraffes have declined by 36-40% over the past three decades due to habitat loss and other pressures, the conference added the world’s tallest animal to Appendix II. Asia’s smooth-coated and small-clawed otters, threatened by habit loss and possibly by trade in live animals, were transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I, which prohibits all commercial trade in the species that it lists.

Because the growing exotic pet trade has put enormous pressure on many species of turtle, lizard and gecko, CITES added a range of these species to the Appendices.

The Parties established the CITES Big Cat Task Force with a mandate to improve enforcement, tackle illegal trade and promote collaboration on conserving tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and leopards.

Recognizing a CITES success story – the revival of vicuña populations through sustainable use in Bolivia, Peru and parts of Argentina – the conference downlisted a regional vicuña population in Argentina from Appendix I to Appendix II. The American crocodile population of Mexico, another conservation success, was similarly downlisted in recognition of the population’s continued recovery.

Many countries and their CITES Management Authorities lack the necessary financial and institutional capacity to sustainably manage and conserve their wildlife. The conference took decisions promoting capacity building and other activities aimed at strengthening wildlife management and compliance with and enforcement of CITES trade rules.

In addition, the critical role of local and indigenous communities that live on the frontlines of wildlife conservation and sustainable management, and their need for adequate incomes and livelihoods, was widely recognized. Overcoming a wide range of differing views, the conference asked Parties to begin considering how to best engage indigenous peoples and local communities in CITES decision-making and implementation. The aim is to better achieve the objectives of the Convention while recognizing those people whose use of CITES-listed species contributes significantly to their livelihoods.

“Humanity needs to respond to the growing extinction crisis by transforming the way we manage the world’s wild animals and plants. Business as usual is no longer an option,” said CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

The conference reviewed progress on the implementation of previous measures aimed at ensuring the conservation and sustainable management of already-listed species, such as European eels, sharks, rosewood, great apes and songbirds. These reviews often took advantage of new data and information on population trends, trade levels and national plans and actions.

On the sidelines of CoP18, the Third Global Meeting of Wildlife Enforcement Networks brought together over 105 representatives from WENs, law enforcement bodies, international organizations and other stakeholders. The participants focused on further strengthening their collaborative efforts.

The conference also:

  • adopted the CITES Strategic Vision Post-2020, positioning CITES as a leader in promoting transformative change; environmental, economic and social sustainability; and the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
  • increased quotas for trophy hunting of adult male black rhinos, almost doubling the current quota of five, subject to strict controls; however, proposed trade in southern white rhino horns from Eswatini (Swaziland) and live animals and hunting trophies from Namibia were not accepted.
  • reviewed the measures for the export of live African elephants to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”, whereby exports outside their natural range will be permitted in “exceptional circumstances” only, in consultation with relevant CITES and IUCN bodies, and only if they provide in “situ conservation benefits.”
  • did not accept proposals to permit some limited trade in ivory from African elephants, which means that the existing trade ban remains in place.
  • urged Mexico to mobilize its legal authorities and navy to prevent fishers and vessels from entering the refuge for vaquitas, a near-extinct porpoise, and mandated the secretariat to assess the effectiveness of these measures by the end of 2019.
  • accepted a proposal by South Africa to exclude finished, retail-sales products of aloe, a popular medicinal plant, from the permitting system otherwise covering this plant; any possible impacts will be carefully monitored.
  • supported with unanimity a decision to examine trade in non-CITES listed songbirds, eels, Boswellia and rosewoods as a way of determining what role CITES could or should play in better conserving and managing these species.
  • held a meeting on the African Elephant Action Plan to encourage cooperation among the African elephant range states.
  • hosted over 80 side events that provided information and analysis to delegates on a wide range of CITES issues.

CoP18 was attended by some 1,700 delegates, observers and journalists. CoP19 will be held in 2022 in Costa Rica. (@OnuItalia)

Il giornale Italiano delle Nazioni Unite. Ha due redazioni, una a New York, l’altra a Roma.

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