Archive for July, 2009

Final Day in Geneva – The CITES Standing Committee

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The excitement and bluster of a wild week for elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, and other species now wanes in the final day of the CITES Standing Committee meeting. While the Committee reviews reports from the week, my thoughts start churning in anticipation of the next international wildlife trade event – the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in Doha, Qatar next March. There is such an incredible amount of work to do in the next eight months!

Despite fervent hopes that elephants and ivory trade would not dominate CITES until at least 2017 (after decisions taken at the 2007 CITES meeting), we now know that the elephant debate could reach new heights in 2010. At least three new countries are slated to petition for more elephant trade – widening continental discord at a time when African unity is most needed. Here at the Standing Committee, the European Union, including the UK, have refused to take a stand against further elephant down-listing proposals. I fear that ivory trading interests will be encouraged by Europe’s conciliatory silence.

Tigers, on the other hand, fared better: China and others must answer for their ‘tiger farms’; the mighty World Bank has brought its weight to bear with a loud public pronouncement on the need to improve the security and long-term viability of wild tigers throughout their range and stop the potentially disastrous practice of breeding tigers for their parts.

The catastrophic state of rhino conservation was also highlighted. It seems likely that the levels of rhino poaching will be at their highest for 15 years and I believe this has been stimulated by previous and ill-advised CITES decisions permitting the re-opening of rhino trophy-hunting. The situation is especially bad in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

These and the challenges facing other species such as sturgeon, mahogany, crocodiles, numerous birds and reptiles will all be our priorities in the months ahead. The illegal trade in live wild great apes into and out of Egypt simply must be addressed and we hope that the words of the Egyptian Ambassador, who committed his country to stopping the trade, will be turned into practice.

Some people wonder if CITES is worth it. All the efforts, all the meetings all the talking, all the costs. My answer is simple. Perfection is the enemy of the good. What would the natural world look like without the Convention? I think things would be worse: unfettered ivory trade, massive deforestation and timber sales, unregulated commercialization of tiger bones and bear gallbladders and sea turtle shells, a live animal trade run amok.

That’s why I am committed to CITES, to making the Convention more effective, to helping countries use CITES to bring greater protection to species under threat. And this is especially true for developing countries that need assistance the most to properly protect their indigenous animals and plants.

Born Free has been part of CITES for two decades now – in our own right and as part of the Species Survival Network. I hope that readers will appreciate our efforts and will do what they can to support our continued involvement. We are the voice for the animals in a world increasingly dominated by human noise.

Blogging off,


Day 4 from Geneva – The CITES Standing Committee

Monday, July 13th, 2009

It’s a good news / bad news day from the conference centre in Geneva. Which do you want first?

The good news: World Bank representatives in attendance declared on the Committee floor the Bank’s unequivocal opposition to tiger farming. A handful of Chinese businessmen, prospecting on a return of international trade in tiger bones and other body parts, have put significant pressure on the Chinese government to overturn its long ban on tiger trade.

The World Bank’s Keshav Varma, with whom we’ve been working as part of the Global Tiger Initiative, made a strong statement today: “Extinction is irreversible, so prudence and precaution suggest that the risks of legalized farming of tigers for their parts and derivatives are too great a gamble for the world to take.  We cannot know for sure if tiger farming will work.  And if it does not work the downside risks are just too high — irreversible harm.  Having carefully weighed the economic arguments we urge the CITES community to uphold the ban on wild tiger products and for all countries to continue to ban the domestic trade of wild tigers or any commercial exploitation. This is the only safe way to ensure that wild tigers may have a future tomorrow.”


CITES Parties that breed tigers in intensive operations have another 90 days to report back on their activities – including, importantly, their efforts to stop such dangerous operations – unless those operations are “supportive only to conserving wild tigers”. No tigers should be bred in captivity just to trade in their parts!

The Bad News: Zambia confirmed what we have long feared – that three African elephant range States are prepared to petition the 175 Parties to CITES to downlist their elephant populations from Appendix I (highest protection from trade) to Appendix II (commercial trade allowed) next year in Doha, Qatar. Such a move (by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique most likely) could allow some quantity of ivory to leave those countries legally, putting every African elephant across the continent at risk. Poachers and ivory profiteers would see a bigger market in bloody ivory and try to capitalize on this expanded global market.

There are serious questions about wildlife law enforcement capabilities in these CITES Parties as well as illegal ivory currently leaving their borders. More ivory trade = more dead elephants. We remain convinced that the majority of African elephant range States will be opposed to this move – and hope that their view will prevail.

Tomorrow is the final day of Standing Committee deliberations. I hope the only news to report then is GOOD.

Blogging off,


Day 3 from Geneva – CITES Standing Committee

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Now it’s heating up.


Yesterday I mentioned the illegal primate trade and the transit routes through Egypt to the Middle East. Since then, noted but controversial filmmaker and conservationist Karl Amman has been thrown out of the meeting while trying to interview the Chinese delegation and CITES Secretary-General on film.

The issue of Egypt’s lack of law enforcement with respect to primates is deeply worrying. I remain unconvinced that Egypt has taken the necessary and urgent steps to stop the illegal primate trade. As a result, an illegal trade in highly endangered and increasingly vulnerable animals that has been known to be going on for many years continues. This trade has a negative impact on species and individuals, but also threatens to reflect unfavourably on the reputation of CITES, its credibility and its willingness to take effective and resolute action in the face of compelling evidence of illegal trade and lack of compliance.

The Species Survival Network believes that a number of actions must be taken as a matter of urgency. Among them:

  • Instructing the Secretariat to request that CITES Parties not allow trade with Egypt;
  • Testing all primates held in captivity to ascertain their true country of origin;
  • Microchipping all captive great apes to enhance trade controls;
  • Opening all facilities holding great apes to government inspection.

Such measures are long overdue and must be carried out urgently to prevent more suffering, more depletion of wild great ape numbers, and more illicit trade.


The great ivory debate is seemingly endless and tensions run high on all sides.

Today, a number of key documents were discussed including the review of the status of elephants, trade in their parts, and the impact of illegal activity. The Standing Committee importantly rejected the Secretariat’s claim that there is sufficient current information on management of and trade in elephants. Born Free’s position that there must be a substantive and complete review of elephant conservation and ivory trade was upheld by the Committee.

And what about the control of trade in elephant ivory on the ground, in domestic markets? Delegates expressed concern about increases in ivory trade in Ethiopia and elsewhere, but the elephant’s champion – Kenya – offered to assist Ethiopia and other African elephant range States provide evidence of actions they are taking to address any remaining internal control problems.

CITES has previously approved limited sales of stockpiled elephant ivory, provided that one of the conditions of such sale be the investment of profits from the sale into community development and wildlife conservation. I keep asking, where’s the proof? Where’s the money? Millions have gone into the national coffers of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, but there has not yet been a full evaluation of the impact of the sales! But impact is not just about following the cash. It’s also about African elephant range states seeing an increase in elephant poaching since sales went forward. ‘Vigilance’ must be the word of the day.

But the news is never all grim. Delegates warmly embraced Kenya’s presentation on the extensive work undertaken to develop the African Elephant Action Plan and the African Elephant Fund – efforts involving all 37 African countries with wild elephant populations. Of course now there is a need for the draft plan to be signed off and for donors to come forward to support all the important projects and initiatives it contains with serious funding. Overall, this last document represents a serious and positive breakthrough in terms of collaboration between elephant range states on a subject that has been fraught with controversy for ages.

As you can probably tell, it was an exhausting and tense day. And we’re only half-way through the meeting….

Blogging off,


Day two from Geneva—the CITES Standing Committee

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

We’ve spent a long day wading through technical administrative matters, but I think we have been winning more than we are losing so far. Every bit of forward progress helps.

There is a swirl of activity out in the corridors – documents being worked over; preliminary deals being struck. This is hugely important now, as elephants and the international ivory trade are slated for consideration first thing Wednesday morning.

Delegates in attendance were treated to additional side-event presentations about tigers, electronic permits and, of particular interest to many conservationists, the primate trade and wildlife law enforcement in Egypt. This North African nation has been implicated as a significant trade route for great apes out of Africa to the Middle East. Dozens of live apes leave through Egypt each year, which suggests that possibly hundreds more are slaughtered to supply the trade.

Sadly, the Egyptian authorities appear to have done little to confront the primate trade. As a result, a recent (March 2009) mission to Egypt by the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) has exposed deeply worrying and frustrating evidence that things have not improved. PASA identified 8 facilities that they wished to visit in Egypt, but they were denied access to half of them! In the four they could access, 30% of the great apes they saw were illegally held. The authorities seem to have little grasp on what is wrong and what to do about it.

We hope the Standing Committee will consider taking strong and resolute action to address Egypt’s compliance failures and direct Egypt to undertake specific measures to bring the illegal primate trade to an end. Failure to do so should surely result in trade sanctions under CITES.

With Egypt’s role in the great apes trade and elephant ivory both on the official agenda tomorrow, it might be time for the sparks to fly!

Blogging off,


First day of CITES Standing Committee

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Well, the first day of Standing Committee to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has come to an end in Geneva, Switzerland… imagine a huge room with rows of tables, hundreds of delegates (some would say “government bureaucrats”), headphones, microphones, papers, computers, and the slightly muted buzzing of simultaneous translation into the three working languages of the Convention: English, French, and Spanish.

An air of “worthiness” pervades as the session begins. Weighty decisions will be made this week. Weighty decisions that could deliver protection for wild animal and plant species from trade that may threaten their survival. Crocodiles, great apes, Asian big cats, elephants, rhinos, sturgeon are all on the agenda. So, too, are vital implementation issues about “ranching” wildlife, about wildlife law enforcement, and about the relationship between CITES and the World Trade Organization.

But the first day is all about budgets, and rules, and credentials and who can say what to whom and when.

We did find out that the next Conference of the Parties to CITES will take place in Doha, Qatar in March 2010. This is hugely important as we can now start planning for the two week conference in earnest – planning that includes raising the money to ensure our full and effective attendance!

We also learned, not surprisingly, that China, an enormous consumer of wildlife, still wants to curtail the role of observer organisations such as Born Free and the Species Survival Network; and that notwithstanding that there were no completed documents for the Standing Committee to look at in relation to the issue of Livelihoods, the UK agreed that it was okay for these documents to be submitted to the next Standing Committee meeting which takes place just one day before the next Conference of the Parties – talk about a rush job! This view was strongly opposed by the USA, to their credit.

I’ve been attending these meetings annually for more than a decade and each one seems more important than the last. Wild species and their habitats are vanishing far too fast and the world can not stand idly by, watching with indifference. Action is needed. And the opportunity for action began today in Geneva – I hope the delegates don’t waste their chance to do the right thing.

Blogging off,