With illegal and unsustainable trade endangering wildlife across the world, governments at the just-ended CITES Conference united behind a series of tough decisions to provide greater protection to a host of threatened species and bolster efforts to tackl
Specifically, key decisions and announcements were made around species that are traded across the Greater Mekong Region, including ivory, rhino horn, pangolins and tigers.
Gathered in South Africa for the world’s largest ever wildlife trade summit – the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – more than 180 countries voted to maintain the international ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn, while adopting global bans on trade in pangolins and African Grey parrots. Vietnam is a major destination for rhino horn, which drives poaching of hundreds of rhinos a year, especially in South Africa. CITES left Vietnam and Mozambique in no doubt that they must crack down on the illegal rhino horn trade within a year or face the threat of sanctions.
Countries at the conference also called on nations where there is a legal domestic ivory market that is contributing to illegal trade – such as Thailand – to take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their markets as a matter of urgency.
Laos announced it will phase out its tiger farms – a welcome move that will ensure the 700 tigers in farms there will not end up feeding the illegal trade in tiger parts. Eventually, this represents a significant opportunity for Laos to return to the prestigious list of tiger-range countries by investigating the potential for releasing some of these tigers in National Biodiversity Conservation Areas – “rewilding” the forests of Laos.
The conference also imposed strict regulations on the trade in silky and thresher sharks, devil rays, as well as on all species of rosewood tree.
“With much of the world’s wildlife threatened by poaching and unsustainable trade, governments took bold action in Johannesburg and there were major successes on ivory, rhino horn and tigers,” said Teak Seng, WWF-Greater Mekong Conservation director. “This conference went beyond mere statements about the urgent need to protect threatened species – it also strengthened implementation and enforcement measures to ensure that trade regulations amount to more than paper protection.”
Among a record-breaking number of issues on the agenda, delegates agreed to a series of significant steps to ramp up the global response to illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
Along with calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets that are contributing to illegal trade, countries backed the CITES-led National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process, which identifies countries that are weak points in the illegal ivory trade chain, and is central to efforts to halt the ivory trade.
Just as importantly, countries adopted enhanced traceability mechanisms that are at the heart of efforts to develop sustainable fisheries for sharks and rays, and tightened up rules relating to tiger farms and trade in captive-bred animals, which will help prevent the laundering of wild-caught animals.
“There were some gruelling negotiations at this conference but the final outcome is a stronger global wildlife trade system and greater commitment by countries to act and, critically, to hold others to account,” said Theressa Frantz, WWF co-head of Delegation to CITES CoP17. “Bans make the headlines but rigorous implementation makes the difference. Countries have no excuse: they now have a broader set of tools and a clear expectation that they must act or be held accountable.”
For the first time, the conference also officially debated and adopted resolutions on a number of critical crosscutting issues relating to illegal wildlife trade, including corruption and reduction of consumer demand for threatened wildlife and their parts.
“This was the largest and most ambitious CITES conference, and in many ways the most successful,” said Frantz. “Countries around the world must now turn the tough talk we have heard here in Johannesburg into tough measures on the ground.”