The Ups and Down(er)s of CITES 2016

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between 182 governments, aimed at ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES either regulates, through listing on Appendix II, or prohibits, through listing on Appendix I, international commercial trade in these species.

Even though CITES effectiveness is hampered by political bickering between the nations and their selfish economic interests that regularly overrule the interests of endangered animals and plants, some positive outcomes were achieved during the recent 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention in Johannesburg, South Africa:

-Five more shark species and all manta rays were included in Appendix II.

-A proposal from Swaziland to allow the sale of its 330kg stockpile of rhino horn, erroneously marketed as a fertility-enhancer in quack traditional medicine, was defeated.

-As was the proposal by Namibia and Zimbabwe to resume a legal trade in ivory.

-And the attempt by Canada and Arab states at downgrading existing protection for peregrine falcons.

-All Pangolin species, whose scales are in demand for traditional medicine and whose meat is a delicacy in some Asian countries, received appendix I protection.

-Some seriously threatened reptiles and amphibians, popular in the exotic pet trade, were listed or had their protection level increased.

-All 300 types of Rosewood, whose $2.2 billion a year trade for luxury furniture is devastating the forests in South-East Asia, face trade restrictions.

-Palisander tree species were listed on Appendix II as well.

-The rules concerning the export of hunting trophies were tightened up following negotiations between the EU and South African delegations.

-A moratorium on commercial exports of products from wild lions was agreed by the Parties.

-The participant countries ruled 35 to 3 against removal of Decision 14.81 that says: “No periodic review of any great whale should occur while the moratorium by the International Whaling Commission is in place.” This ruling guaranteed that important protection for great whales stays in place. The three countries arguing in favor of removing this protection were those still pursuing, no matter under what guise, commercial whaling: Iceland, Norway and Japan.

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Fin whale near Gough Island

-And, finally, there is a ban on the international trade in wild African grey parrots. They are moved to Appendix I, an upgrade from Appendix II.

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African grey parrot ‘Pretty Bird’ at the Wildlife Waystation in Los Angeles

This beautiful and highly intelligent bird reportedly lost 99% of its population in Ghana and is now extremely rare or even locally extinct in Benin, Burundi, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo, but it has experienced significant population declines throughout its range in West, Central and East Africa. Between 2 and 3 million of these parrots have been taken from the wild in the past 40 years, with about 50% of the birds dying before reaching their destination.

The birds are hugely popular around the world as pets, resulting in mass hunting for the international wildlife trade, followed by their numbers dwindling in the wild.

Parrots don’t make good pets anyway as they can rarely be given the space they need for free flight. They might loose their beauty with their feathers when confined and they can be messy and loud. As a result many parrots live a lonely life in a tiny cage until they are discarded. Often these long-lived birds (grey parrots can live up to 50 years) simply outlive their owners.

If they are lucky they find their way to a loving sanctuary, like the Wildlife Waystation, where ‘Pretty Bird’, a African grey parrot, now lives in larger surroundings together with cockatoos and macaws.

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‘Pretty Bird’

During the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES there were a few downers too:

-A big disappointment was the USA’s decision, already months before the meeting, to give up its fight to have polar bears listed on Appendix I (prohibition of the trade in instead of Appendix II regulation of trade) that allows the hunting (for trophies, pelts, meat, etc.) of these iconic animals to continue while they are facing their complete demise at the hands of human-induced climate change that decreases their Arctic ice habitat year by year.

-A decision that put the EU to shame was their blocking of the attempt to return the populations of elephants in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to CITES Appendix I where all other elephant populations are listed. A total ban on ivory trade, including domestic, however, is in the books.

-In 2002, both Atlantic and Patagonian Toothfish were proposed for listing under CITES but these were withdrawn when Parties instead committed to comply with CCAMLR regulations. In Johannesburg, CCAMLR reported that 21 (Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei Darussalam, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam) non-member countries have not co-operated with use of the Commission’s catch documentation scheme and that 11 (Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Islamic Republic of Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Panama, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo)  have licensed illegal fishing vessels. All of the former and all but one, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, of the latter are Parties to CITES.

-While a moratorium on commercial exports of products from wild lions was agreed, probably the biggest disappointment of CITES 2016 was that the Parties continue to allow the trade in bones from captive-bred lions for, mainly, medicinal purposes in Asia.

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Old lioness at the Wildlife Waystation from the ‘Ligertown rescue’

Nine African nations (Niger, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo) sought to uplist lions to Appendix I, offering full trade protection.

However, in a compromise move, CITES allowed the marketing of captive lion bones to appease the fierce opposition from countries in southern Africa that make money of the trade in lion bone and body parts and canned hunting.

It is impossible to distinguish between the bones of captive or wild lions, leaving the door wide open for laundering of poached animal parts. From turtle shells to toothfish to ivory and rhino horns, we have learned over the years that poachers will always find a way to launder the products from hunted or otherwise poached animals, in this case wild lions and other endangered big cats, into the legal trade where this legal trade is allowed to exist.

The decision also perpetuates the cruel, intensive lion breeding operations in Southern Africa.

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Tangassi at the Wildlife Waystation

Many rescued lions and other big cats call the Wildlife Waystation home, including the ones pictured here, and they vehemently oppose the idea that their species is to be bred for a life of captivity or, even worse, as nothing but a sack of bones to be killed and traded at some humans’ discretion.


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