On the 24th September several thousand people will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Another ‘talking shop’ I hear you groan. Why don’t we just get on and save the animals!? What’s the point of yet another conference when species such as elephant, rhino, pangolin, lion, tiger and many more are in such dire straits? What’s the point of CITES anyway?
HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s just what some of the all-consuming, pro-trade lobby want – not to mention the illegal criminal networks and poaching syndicates making a killing exploiting wildlife.
Let me explain:
People often say to me that we should get rid of CITES. That it has failed.
For sure, CITES can be improved but, for a moment, imagine that it did not exist.
Then we all said ‘you know what, all these species in trade need some sort of protection. We need an international treaty that is aimed at controlling and, where necessary, preventing trade in species whose future could be in jeopardy because of trade. We’ll need to have a Secretariat to make sure countries stick to the rules and so that, at least in principle, everyone plays by those rules. That Secretariat, with our support, needs to be able to suspend all trade in species of wild fauna and flora from any country that goes too far. We’ll need a body in each country – let’s call it the Scientific Authority – to rigorously assess the viability of any trade in live animals and plants or specimens. We’ll need another body – let’s call it the Management Authority – in each country to ensure that national laws are compliant with the terms of the Treaty and to manage trade at a national level. And we’ll have a meeting of all the contracting countries – the Parties – every 2 or 3 years, where proposals relating to trade will be discussed, where additional protection can be approved and where, if we agree, international trade can be suspended or banned. Oh, and let’s agree that a vote of two thirds or more in favour of any motion will be internationally binding…”
Sounds like a pretty important concept to me. But remember, in this fantasy world I have created, it doesn’t exist. It’s an idea we’ve just dreamed up.
Now ask yourselves: Would we, today, ever be able to turn such an idea into reality? I suspect the answer would be a solid NO. A quick look at the other environmental agreements such as the Convention on Migratory Species or the Convention on Biological Diversity, important in their own right, clearly demonstrates that unlike CITES they simply do not have the ability to hold countries to account, to introduce trade sanctions at a global level, ban international trade in ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, lion and tiger body parts and so much more.
That is why I have attended every CITES meeting since 1989, fighting for the highest levels of protection under international law possible for species threatened by global trade. That is why I will be there in Johannesburg with my Born Free colleagues, Mark, Adam, Gabriel, Tim, Alice, Manori and Marion, as well as delegates from the influential Species Survival Network to challenge those who would trade at any cost, those who would commercialise and commodify wild animals and plants, risking, in my view, their very survival.
We have CITES and we must be thankful for that and we must make the most of it, make it work to its full potential and ensure that, as far as I am concerned, it delivers a precautionary agenda so that we don’t speculate on our wildlife heritage but we conserve and protect and nurture it.
Born Free is the voice for the voiceless and your support makes our voice louder still. Thank you.