Archive for June, 2007

Some good, bad and ugly decisions – summing up CoP 14

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Dear All,
My apologies for the delay in getting this final blog out – the end of the CITES conference was more complicated than usual, not least because I had to drive back from the The Hague on the closing day to attend the Born Free Ball in London!
So what can we make of this conference?
Good decisions for bobcat, tiger, some of the north African gazelle species, and slow loris…
Bad decisions for the main tree species and the two sharks.
Ugly decisions for the leopard and rhino.
The budget was approved finally; the strategic plan was controversial; and the discussion as to whether the implementation of CITES decisions should be influenced by livelihoods issues rumbles on.
The EU did not, in my view, achieve its aims (sharks lost, timber withdrawn) and the host government of The Netherlands cannot claim to have put on a successful CoP since enormous prices, dodgy technology and a convention centre that was barely able to cope, undermined their attempt.
As for elephants, everyone is now waiting to see what will actually happen on the ground. Will the sale of ivory approved by the Parties (and which is on top of the sales approved by Standing Committee just two weeks before) signal a poaching green light and increase insecurity, poaching and organised crime? Or will the hard-won ‘resting period’ put a smoke blanket over the trade, reduce illegal killing of elephants and bring a time of relative peace? We shall see.
Many tens of thousands of people tuned in to the Born Free website during the CoP. I hope these blogs have given a taste of what has been going on from my personal perspective.
CITES will not return for another 3 years. I pray that this will not be too late for some of the species that missed out on better protection this time around.
P.S. Born Free will not be resting for 3 years and so if you would like to help our work in any way (by joining, donating, adopting, or whatever) please do get in touch.

Ivory sales: Glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Dear Friends

After nearly 20 years working on elephant protection and fighting the ivory trade it seems that perhaps there is a glimmer of light – at least temporarily – at the end of this particular long tunnel.  African delegates, here at CITES, worked until 4 am this morning (Thursday 14th ) to hammer out a compromise which, although it would permit significant sales of already stockpiled ivory from four countries, would also establish a “resting period” of nine years or more when no further trade from those stockpiles could take place.

The acid-test of whether this compromise is going to deliver for elephants will be what impact it has on the most fragile elephant populations in Central and West Africa. 

Will these sales be seen as a green-light to organised crime and poachers or will the resting period deliver an era of stability, security and increased wildlife law enforcement?

Although the text of the compromise does potentially allow for countries that currently have their elephant populations on Appendix 1 to down list their population to Appendix 2 and submit proposals for trade within the resting period, I am hoping that such countries will respect the spirit of the decision taken today and resist any temptation to seek ivory trade in the next decade.

May be now, Born Free and other organisations, can get on with the work of assisting countries to protect their elephants to resolve conflict resolution and to secure elephant habitat into the future.  That’s what real conservation is all about.


PS  Will, Ian, Winnie, Adam and Shelley (the Born Free team at CITES) would like to thank all the Born Free supporters, everyone who has read the blog and all real conservationists everywhere, for their support – it has been an exhausting three weeks but may be wildlife has won. 


Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Dear Friends,

So much for CITES being a serious international forum which considers the weighty issues surrounding the trade in threatened species and which decides, based on sound analysis of science and trade data, whether or not to implement binding global trade control rules.

Today the Convention ‘lost the plot’.

A cabal of Ministers from a minority of countries entered the fray. Key, powerful pro-ivory trade ministerial leaders from Namibia, Botswana and Zambia joined forces to pressure the dialogue to accept massive new sales of ivory and reduce the so-called ‘breathing space’ (the moratorium proposed by Kenya and Mali) to the bare minimum.

It’s the most bizarre day I’ve encountered in almost 2 decades of attending CITES. Technocrats and civil servants who have worked themselves into the ground over the last two weeks were found wandering aimlessly around because meetings started late and adjourned early to accommodate Ministerial negotiations.

It’s pure politics and the end result is that elephants and ivory issues will now not be discussed in Committee 1 but will have to come directly to the full plenary before the debate is heard. And who knows what we will be presented with…

I am outraged at the entire process, the way that the elephant range States seem to have been sidelined by European Union grandstanding and the way that the objective work of the Convention has been jettisoned for political expediency.

So (don’t hold your breath) this will come back on Thursday morning.


The Waiting Goes On

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Dear Friends, 

It’s been a long time coming and it ain’t over yet.

With just 48 hours left of the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, elephants are now at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Late night meetings, whispers in quiet corners, proposal and counter-proposal.

The original documents submitted by Namibia and Botswana, Botswana on its own and Kenya with Mali are now overshadowed by a huge new proposal from the EU which, in effect, would shorten the moratorium or ‘resting period’ as proposed by Kenya and Mali from 20 years to 9 years and approve massive ivory sales of well over 100 tonnes, in addition to the 60 tonnes now permitted following confirmation by the Standing Committee on 2nd June.

There was even a suggestion that Tanzania and Zambia – countries with no current proposals to allow for ivory trade – be allowed to trade in ivory during the moratorium!

To use the expression ‘coach and horses’ is simply inadequate.  If the EU proposal passes unamended it’s the end of the ivory trade ban as we know it and I believe that elephants will face a very uncertain future across much of Africa and Asia.

What is the EU doing? Why is it failing to listen to the majority of African range States who say no to trade? Why is it introducing proposals that are so dangerous to elephants? Why is it seeming to so blatantly favour the pro-trade agenda of Southern Africa, a region in which some, relatively speaking, of the wealthiest countries are found?

It seems perverse!

We are about to go back into the afternoon session – has the elephants’ time come?


The elephant discussion continues

Monday, June 11th, 2007

They’ve been talking about elephants for nearly 2 weeks and still nothing has been agreed. Everyone is exhausted!
It boils down to this. The ‘pro-trade’ countries (including Botswana and Namibia) want to achieve a further significant sale of ivory at this Conference of the Parties and ongoing opportunities to sell. The precautionary countries (including Mali and Kenya) want to establish a long-term cessation of trade and, critically, agreement that no further proposals for trade to be brought forward for a number of years. Of course, that’s problematic to say the least for pro-trade countries but, importantly, there is also a move afoot to establish an African Elephant Fund which will deliver financial support to conservation, enforcement and other measures. In this way the security of elephants can be better provided for and assessed and, in theory, could lead to a time when modest ivory trading could start again.
I don’t want to see any elephants killed for their ivory. However I do recognise that if Africa’s most vulnerable elephant populations could be properly protected, the argument to permit low level and tightly monitored trade will be powerfully attractive to the international community.
It now seems likely that today’s elephant debate will be moved to Tuesday when the original proposals and all the redrafting compromises will be on the table.  The possibilities are either that all proposals will be debated, all will be withdrawn or that a compromise will be reached. One thing we pray for is that whatever happens it doesn’t threaten the lives of yet more elephants.


Anatomy of the CoP so Far

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Saturday – a bit of time to step back and reflect on the last 7 days and to try and catch up on the sleep deficit (we’ve been here 12 days; first meeting at 07.00 and stumble into bed midnight or later – it’s brutal)
Here’s the rundown. Ivory sales approved 5 years ago get the green light – that’s 60 tonnes of stockpiled ivory destined for Japan. Three commercially exploited Latin American tree species proposals withdrawn without a fight (we’re talking 45,000 cubic metres of wood from one species from country alone – much of it illegal); the proposal to withdraw CITES protection from the North American bobcat defeated (hooray); the diminutive and appealling slow loris given greater protection under Appendix I of the Convention; the two shark Proposals narrowly defeated in Committee 1 (maybe they can be resurrected in the final plenary session, who knows)……
There has been a lot more besides with detailed work on such weighty issues as Livelihoods, the CITES Strategic Plan, Personal and Household Effects (what you can import without a permit), not to mention the parlous state of the CITES budget (currently running at about $5 million a year)
Monday could be a big day for elephants. The dialogue between African Range States which started on the 30th May has not produced any conclusive outcome or agreement. I predict that this weekend there will another effort to reach a satisfactory compromise between protecting elephants from an all out resumption in ivory trading and permitting a handful of countries to financially gain from legally recovered ivory. But it may come to nothing and then the halls of the World Forum Centre here in the Netherlands may get very tense indeed.


Tigers are burning bright at CITES

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Tigers in the wild are in deep trouble. I’ve seen images of a terrified snared tiger shot at point blank range to supply Far Eastern medicinal markets. So why isn’t more being done and why are some people saying we should liberalise the trade in tiger products?

Confused about tigers – you should be!

There are perhaps 5,000 tigers in Chinese Tiger Farms (despite the fact that trade in tiger products has been banned in the country since 1993)…. so why are they there?

Because some unscrupulous profiteers are speculating that trade will be opened up in tiger products (skin, meat, bones, etc., ) from tiger farms and then they will – quite literally – make a killing.

It is estimated that the current tiger farm stock can produce between 800 and 1,000 cubs every year and that, if sales were approved, this would make a few people very wealthy indeed.

Officially the Chinese government is saying that it backs the current ban but, the reality on the ground in China, indicates otherwise.

Many tiger conservation and animal protection groups, including both Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, have formed a new alliance called the International Tiger Coalition  to try and encourage all Parties to CITES, and particularly China, to make the trade ban permanent, thereby ending once and for all, the speculative breeding of tigers for commercial gain.

I hope we succeed. I have seen reports on these tiger farms where in some cases, it is possible to buy live animals such as cows and watch them being fed to the tigers amidst scenes that are reminiscent of ancient Rome. Let’s be clear, tiger farms do nothing for conservation, impose significant suffering and deprivation and, in my view, simply serve to stimulate ongoing public desire for tiger products. It’s disgusting!


Leopards in the Firing Line – Elephants Wait for Judgement

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Dear Friends

It makes me sick. The thought that someone could find pleasure in taking the life of a magnificent leopard for fun. Stick the head on the wall, put the skin on the floor.

It was expected that the two leopard hunting proposals (one from Uganda and one from Mozambique) would be high on the CITES priority list – and they were.

But despite clear lack of scientific evidence (in the case of Uganda the most relevant population estimate is 20 years old!) both proposals were adopted by consensus allowing Mozambique to double its leopard trophy hunting quota from 60 to 120 animals a year and permitting Uganda to open up trophy hunting of leopards with a total of 28 animals.

I’ve been to many parts of Africa over the last 40 years and I’ve seen a wild leopard just 3 times. It was an awe-inspiring experience that I felt so privileged to witness. How impoverished is the human mind that can contemplate snuffing out that wild life.

Meanwhile, no news on elephants… except that discussion may now be deferred until the start of week two.

Finally our lunchtime presentation by Professor Sam Wasser on DNA research into tracing illegal ivory was attended by over 100 people including some of the big names in elephant conservation, including Dr Iain Douglas Hamilton and Dr Esmond Bradley Martin. The possibility that we can now trace the origin of illegal ivory shipments right back to the near exact location from where they came will fit yet another piece into the illegal ivory trade jigsaw. It was awesome and described by I.D.H. as ‘a breakthrough’. Praise indeed!


First full day of the conference

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Dear Friends, 

The first full day of the CITES conference is a mixed bag. Opening speeches, approval of the workplan for the meeting and then, in the afternoon, regional meetings which NGOs are not able to attend.

So, instead, we planned the SSN Reception, a regular and important feature of the Conference of the Parties.

Imagine, 600 delegates, members of the Press and NGOs; a short speech by the President of SSN (yours truly); the presentation of 8 Clark R Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Awards by the Secretary General of CITES, Mr Willem Wijnstekers; and two shows in the Hague’s IMAX theatre of ‘Wild Africa’.

It was a hugely successful evening and a great opportunity for the Born Free team and members of the SSN to talk to many delegates about the issues coming up in the next 10 days.

Of course, there is always the unexpected to contend with and the presence of a PR Officer from the Botswana Government handing out fliers urging delegates to support pro-ivory trade proposals was quickly and politely addressed!

The presentation of the enforcement awards, sponsored by the Animal Welfare Institute, an SSN member organisation, was a moving experience. Two of the recipients, one from Kenya and the other from Tanzania, had died in the line of duty. The other awards recognised officers in the USA, India, Cameroon and DRC, and Canada. The real conservation front-line is a dangerous and sometimes deadly place.  It is important to be reminded of this reality as we sit, cossetted in the depths of the convention centre here in The Hague.


At last, the CITES meeting officially begins

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Dear Friends:

At long last, the CITES meeting has officially begun in The Hague.  The energetic and entertaining opening ceremony included a series of speeches by host government dignitaries and high-level bureaucrats in the Geneva-based CITES-Secretariat.

Their theme was a simple one: CITES must evolve and CITES must account for the needs of people.  I couldn’t agree more–but the question is how.

But such progress must not be blind to reason and the real needs of people on the ground. To some, the evolution of CITES and attention to indigenous people leads to massive wildlife exploitation—it’s easy to say you’re interested in people’s “livelihoods” but what does that really mean?

The people who live with wildlife should be given a voice in advocating protection of that wildlife.  Animals and plants are an irreplaceable part of the natural systems of the earth which must be protected for this and the generations to come. Those aren’t my words—they’re taken directly from the Preamble to the Treaty itself.

What better way to support indigenous people than protect their environment, conserve their forests, and ensure that wild animals can thrive and provide lasting value to those communities for generations to come. Should CITES, a convention that was specifically designed to address the threat to wildlife from rampant and uncontrolled trade, become yet another livelihood and human development tool? I don’t think so.

On another issue, the world is increasingly becoming more and more technologically advanced. But we mustn’t let technological advancement outpace human need.  What good is a wireless world if people can’t access it?

I have been in wildlife departments in Asia and Africa and I have seen the incredibly difficult working conditions they endure. Government officials in some countries, for instance, sometimes still use snail mail and the delay from this form of communication may mean they are effectively excluded from much of the ongoing global debate and decision-making. 

Since 2004 CITES has been moving inexorably into an electronic environment and, for example, does not provide all delegates with printed meeting documents.  While reduction of paper use is surely a good thing, scores of government delegates have approached Born Free asking for help—if they don’t have computers, how can they access the documents electronically?

Today, my colleagues from Born Free and SSN and I handed new Dell laptop computers to 30 delegates from 30 countries at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. With our help they can now access the internet, store files, and prepare documents, including speeches and interventions to the gathered delegates. Equally important, they can take these vital machines home with them and employ them in their ongoing work.

We gave these computers to our friends, representing governments who strongly advocate in favour of wildlife conservation.  But we also gave them to countries including Zimbabwe that we know oppose us vigorously on elephant protection.

The laptops were incredibly well received and the delegate from Burkina Faso, replying on behalf of numerous African beneficiaries, said “These laptops will not only help us here but help our conservation work when we return home, and when we meet again in 2010 you will see the benefits of your generosity.”

Born Free believes strongly in capacity building; in lifting the capability of people in developing countries to fully engage in the discourse.  Equity is as important as ethics.

And so tomorrow, when the deliberations begin in earnest, 30 delegates will have a greater chance of being “tuned in” to the discussion.