Archive for March, 2010


Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

US and EU Soft on Ivory

Hello hello!?

Just hours after the ivory debates at the CITES conference here in Doha, 24 uncut ivory tusks have been intercepted by the Civil Guard in El Masnou, near Barcelona, Spain.

Spain is currently the President of the European Union, the 27 strong community of nations that holds such sway at CITES meetings. Until yesterday the EU’s position on the two pro-trade ivory proposals (one from Tanzania and the other from Zambia) remained largely unknown.

When it came to the vote however, the EU abstained on the downlisting component of both proposals (from the no commercial trade category of Appendix I to controlled trade category of Appendix II) and voted against the ivory trade request contained in the Tanzanian proposal.

I wonder: Did they know that such a major seizure (one of the largest in Europe for some years) had just taken place?

It really is now essential that we stop fence-sitting when it comes to ivory trading. Let’s focus our attention on conserving elephants and kill the trade once and for all.

Believe it or not, the US spoke out in favor of downlisting Zambia’s elephants to Appendix II to allow commercial trade! Why are the world’s “superpowers” not “superconservationists”?

Born Free is committed to helping some of Africa’s poorest nations save their elephants. You can help too at

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Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010


Just minutes before they entered the debating chamber, delegates from the African Elephant Coalition, representing the majority of African elephant range States, were inspired by the huge vote of support from 500,000 people around the world, organized by Born Free and Avaaz.

Three hours later, the CITES votes had been cast and delegates had rejected proposals which would have permitted sales of thousands of kilos of stockpiled ivory. The voice of the people and the voice of Africa had been heard loud and clear!

To help Born Free support some of the poorest nations in Africa protect their elephants, please go to

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Friday, March 19th, 2010

End of the Line for Bluefin Tuna?

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna suffers from overexploitation in legal trade and significant illegal, unregulated and underreported fishing.

This afternoon, CITES Parties overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to give the species much-needed protection in international trade — 20 for, 68 opposed, 30 abstained.

Where is the precautionary principle? Where are the visionaries? Will CITES really wait until the species is commercially extinct before they act? Shame.

One man, perhaps more than any other, has made the plight of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna his cause célèbre. Charles Clover, formerly of The Telegraph newspaper in London, brought the world’s attention to this magnificent fish through his book End of the Line, recently made into a powerful and compelling film. His reaction to the decision by the CITES Parties to reject the proposal from the Principality of Monaco to place the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on Appendix 1 speaks for itself:

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is particularly vulnerable to overexploitation because it is a late maturing, low productivity species, with two to three years between spawnings.

We must give tuna a reprieve from overfishing or I fear we will have served up extinction on a plate.

Hoping for a better day on Sunday when the meeting reconvenes.

Blogging off,



Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Tigers, Trinkets, Soup and Sushi. Tourism and the Wildlife Trade.

At London’s prestigious Royal Geographical Society on Thursday the 18th of March the Born Free Foundation is hosting an evening talk and discussion (sponsored by Land Rover) considering the interface between the tourism industry and wild animals, both in their natural habitat and in captivity.

Out here at the CITES meeting in Doha, Qatar, we are immersed in issues that concern the international trade in wildlife – ivory, tuna, sharks, and more.

It got me thinking about the species I am working to protect and tourism in the countries that are home to these wildlife populations. The more I thought about it the more clear it all became.

Ivory is an obvious example. Buy an ivory trinket and an elephant dies. Tigers (heavily poached in the wild) are a top tourist attraction, but too many unregulated tourists run the risk of damaging or even destroying the environment on which wild tigers depend.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is on the verge of commercial extinction and restaurant-goers who buy a plate of bluefin tuna are directly contributing to its further decline. The same goes for sharks: eat sharks’ fin soup…. the link is obvious. What about coral? Tons of coral are “mined” from fragile marine environments every year. Reefs are being destroyed and the results are threefold. The reef may simply be damaged beyond any prospect of recovery; the aesthetic beauty of the reef may be lost and no longer prove an attraction for the growing leisure diving travel industry; the spawning ground for dozens of fish species will be lost with negative long-term impacts on the local communities that rely on fishing – not to mention the irreparable loss of biodiversity.

Tourism is one of the world’s greatest industries employing millions of people and generating many billions of dollars for local economies. Tourism can bring significant benefits – cultural, financial, community, employment – to global tourism destinations, but for tourism to be sustained long-term it has to increasingly embrace a responsible agenda.

In fact my hope is that, someday, irresponsible tourism will simply not exist and that the power of the tourist dollar and the commitment of the industry’s leaders will create a sustainable and compassionate industry that benefits people and wildlife.

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CITES day 4

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010


What is it with people appointed to ‘look after the interests of animals in international trade’?

It seems that whatever the evidence, it always ends up being about what people want, not what animals and species need. CITES can be a bit like that.

Seventy to one hundred million sharks a year killed – in significant quantities – for their fins. No sustainable shark fisheries. Do we, as a responsible species (and as the species responsible) step in and halt trade until we have a proper plan? Nope.

Elephant populations across much of Africa hammered by poachers, vast shipments of illegal ivory swirling around the globe, sky-high prices for each kilo of bloody ‘white gold’. Do we, as a responsible species (and as the species responsible) step in and halt trade until we have a proper plan? Nope.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna stocks on the brink of collapse due to out of control fisheries, massive disregard for quotas and markets that will now pay up to £111,000 for a single fish. Do we call an immediate halt to all fishing and give the species a chance to step back from the edge of commercial extinction. Do we, as a responsible species (and as the species responsible) step in and halt trade and compensate fishermen whose line of work has not come to an end? Nope.

We are SO arrogant. We think we can keep on doing what we do and that we’ll be able to fix it in the meantime. I recall the words of the late Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, speaking at a CITES conference many years ago: “If there is doubt, then let the benefit of the doubt go to the species”. How right he was…. But do we have the common sense to listen? I doubt it!

To help elephants go to To help all wildlife go to – pass it on!

Blogging off from Doha.


CITES Day 2 – The Death of Diplomacy?

Monday, March 15th, 2010

In an extraordinary, unprecedented, and quite undiplomatic start to CITES CoP 15, a delegate from Botswana moved during plenary to have Proposal 6 removed from the Agenda. This proposal, submitted by Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo Brazzaville and Liberia, seeks to prevent further ivory trading and maintain the current level of CITES protection for elephants for the next 20 years.

Botswana blithely argued that it was not within the powers of CITES to introduce measures that might prevent Parties from making future proposals to amend the Appendices – in this case, prevent future downlistings from Appendix I to Appendix II – and that such a move would undermine the sovereign rights of each member State. Of course, at the 2007 CITES Meeting, Parties did, in fact, approve a nine year moratorium on ivory trade from certain African elephant range States.

However, the Chair of the Plenary, on advice from the CITES Secretariat, ruled that Proposal 6 was to remain on the agenda.

Botswana’s shameful move sent shockwaves throughout the meeting hall, especially among the many delegates who remain appalled at the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to trade 111 tonnes of ivory from their stockpiles to China and Japan.

In the hallways outside the Conference room during a break, African delegates from across the continent reiterated their strong opposition for any further trade in elephant ivory. Here, Azizou El Hadj Issa, the Director of the office of forests and natural resources in Benin (a small west African country with only 1,200 elephants left), expresses his opposition to the ivory trade and calls on the world to support the many African countries working hard to protect their elephants from poachers:

Clearly the Parties must ultimately decide whether they want to see more high risk international ivory shipments, which could threaten the lives of tens of thousands of elephants across the continent or support measures that could reduce poaching pressure, choke off demand for ivory and make the lives of Africa’s elephants a little safer.

Please go to and show your support.

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Sunday, March 14th, 2010

A Call to Action

The 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES officially opened this afternoon in Doha, with thousands of delegates spread throughout the Doha Sheraton Conference Center.

The opening ceremony, filled with ceremonial music and dance, included speeches from the Qatar Minister of the Environment, Abdullah bin Aaboud al-Midhad, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, and the Secretary-General of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers.

The Environment Minister expressed “pride and glory” for his country hosting a conservation meeting of this importance — the first time a CITES Meeting of the Conference of the Parties has been held in the Middle East.

Mr. Wijnstekers averred that CITES is “in need of action more than words” and wondered aloud if the developing world had been let down by the Convention, which lacks full levels of capacity building and wildlife law enforcement to support wildlife conservation activities where they are perhaps needed most.

Ironically, today was all about words. Tomorrow too (adoption of the working program and rules of procedure for the meeting, reports from the various Committee Chairs on what has happened since the last CITES meeting in 2007, etc.). I’m ready for more action than words. And the wildlife of the world, as the Secretary-General says, needs it too.

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CITES on the Horizon

Friday, March 12th, 2010

We have arrived safely in Doha, Qatar for the 15th CITES meeting and the whispering in the halls has begun.

Tanzania and Zambia are on the ropes as new reports are surfacing about ineffective wildlife law enforcement in the countries. How can ivory trade from Tanzania be approved when CITES own Panel of Experts acknowledges that the country has lost as many as 30,000 elephants in 3 years?

Meanwhile, the CITES Standing Committee met this morning in its first session and praised Nigeria for its improved enforcement efforts and commitment to implementing the Convention.

Born Free USA Executive Vice President Adam Roberts is here with me and this morning we reviewed preparations for Sunday’s start of Conference. Have a look:

Check back each day for all the exciting news as the life-and-death decisions affecting the world’s wildlife are handed down by government officials from as many as 175 countries.

Elephants, tigers, sharks, frogs, polar bears… what will their future look like when the Conference concludes on 25 March? Born Free USA will report it all to you every step of the way.

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PS. Do you share my opposition to the trade in elephant ivory? Sign the petition at and spread the word!