Archive for August, 2011

Rhinos facing grave threats

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Rhinocerous (c)Mike Vickers

Impassioned interventions made yesterday by rhinoceros range States were quite literally bringing tears to the eyes of some delegates attending the Standing Committee. The appalling threat and suffering that face rhino populations across Africa was truly horrifying to hear.

The Democratic Republic of Congo spoke of how it was once proud of its endemic northern white rhino population. However, the poaching situation has resulted in a 3 year search for any remaining white rhinos, and in that time DRC have found no trace of a single surviving individual. In all likelihood, DRC’s northern white rhinos are now extinct.

Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana also spoke of the ‘unprecedented’ and ‘grave’ threats facing their rhino populations. Most countries agreed that enforcement efforts would be useless in the absence of a concerted effort to reduce demand in Asia.

Pleas by range States for consumer States to take urgent action, however, did not stimulate a positive response. China and Japan were strongly of the opinion that measures to persuade the public that rhino horn has little or no medical efficacy, and should not be used in Traditional Asian Medicine, would fall on deaf ears.

The UK reported shocking statistics – that illicit rhino horn now demands more money on the black market than heroin, being equivalent in value to crack cocaine.

The real question is whether or not the measures approved by CITES can take effect fast enough to protect remaining rhino populations, before the situation in DRC is replicated across other parts of Africa. Time will tell.

Signing off,


Elephants on the Agenda

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

(c) LAGAPredictably, elephant debates took up almost a full day of the Standing Committee’s time yesterday. Elephants remain a deeply divisive issue at CITES, and yesterday’s ejection of NGO’s from the morning session clearly reflected this (see yesterday’s blog).

A multitude of important elephant issues were under discussion, including alarming and increasing trends in levels of illegal killing of elephants. The CITES programme that monitors elephant poaching, known as MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants), highlighted increasing poaching trends across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa.

In light of serious levels of poaching, illegal trade and other threats facing elephants across Africa, the importance of implementing the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) was clear to all attending the Standing Committee. The AEAP is a comprehensive document, compiled and approved by all African Elephant range States, which identifies all the activities required to protect elephants across their range. Countries called for donor support to the African Elephant Fund – the funding mechanism for the AEAP – so that priority activities (such as increasing wildlife law enforcement efforts to reduce illegal trafficking of ivory) could take place as a matter of urgency. There were also calls for Asia to develop and adopt its own Asian Elephant Action Plan.

Asian demand for ivory was also a hot topic for the Standing Committee. Large ivory markets in Thailand were highlighted as a matter of concern, and a deadline was set for the passing of new legislation in Thailand which would tighten up its domestic ivory trade controls.

The Standing Committee also approved a consultation process regarding the establishment of a decision-making mechanism for trade in legal ivory (effectively a list of conditions that would be required before a country could be approved to trade in ivory). The Born Free Foundation continues to strongly oppose the establishment of such a decision-making mechanism. We believe that legal trade could further increase the already insatiable demand for ivory, and lead to further illegal killing of elephants. Many fragile elephant populations simply cannot take any more pressure, and Born Free will continue to lobby against any legal trade in ivory!


CITES Standing Committee Day 3

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

After the shock of an early morning vote at the CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, which led to the exclusion of some of the world’s leading wildlife conservation non-governmental organisations including the Species Survival Network, Born Free Foundation, Worldwide Fund for Nature, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, Environmental Investigation Agency, Elephant Family, and numerous others, from the debate on elephant poaching and the impact of the international illegal trade in ivory, a second vote at the start of the afternoon session reversed the previous decision and the Born Free Foundation, SSN and others are back in the room.

Common sense has prevailed! The previous expulsion of NGOs – the representatives of civil society and tens of millions of members of the public – was a major error of judgement. It cast a shadow over the work of the Convention and, had it persisted, would have diminished its ability to bring real conservation benefits to a range of threatened species.

The exact details of how this more enlightened second vote came about are unclear, but the Standing Committee has gone some considerable way to restoring its reputation for progressive inclusivity to the lasting benefit of species that are or may be threatened by international trade.

For an full account of how events unfolded yesterday see press release.

Blogging off


CITES Standing Committee day 2

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

After the extraordinary scenes yesterday (the multiple and, in the view of some, unconstitutional votes on Secret Ballots) today has been relatively calm.

Elephant issues will start to come up tomorrow….as will rhino….

However, today one thing struck me.

In our modern world we increasingly rely on the internet. Messages and documents can fly back and forth in the blink of an eye – sometimes.

The CITES Secretariat is rightly committed to improving the efficiency of the Convention but… a word of caution.

In our drive to use email and the internet we must make sure that some are not left behind. It’s all very well suggesting the CITES Permits can be issued electronically, that Annual Reports can be issued electronically, that CITES Notifications can be issued electronically… but what happens when electricity is in short supply, power cuts are frequent, and stable access to the internet a dream, not a reality?

Many CITES Parties cannot rely on a robust technological infrastructure and so, until that situation changes, we must make sure that all CITES processes accommodate this reality and ensure that some Parties are not disenfranchised.

Much of the world’s biodiversity resides in some of the world’s poorest countries where electricity, let alone the internet, cannot be taken for granted.

So let’s make sure the CITES family remains as user-friendly as possible for all its Members.

Blogging off


Report from the 61st CITES standing committee in Geneva

Monday, August 15th, 2011


OK. You think CITES is all about the cut and thrust of debate about whether to permit ivory trade, how to stop rhino poaching, protect tigers… and, of course it often is!

But today, the opening day of the 61st CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva Switzerland it was a case of…… sshhh…. secret squirrel!

The EU (supported by the UK) had proposed that the CITES Secretariat develop a paper reviewing the use of Secret Ballots as a voting mechanism at CITES Conferences of the Parties.

The debate rocked back and forth – should there be such a paper or not (it’s only a paper for goodness sake, not a proposal to change or end the use of secret ballots!)

No consensus could be achieved in the room and so it went to a vote!

On a show of hands the Proposal from the EU was passed by 9 – 7

But hold on… China is asking if they can see a list of how Members of the Standing Committee voted.

The Secretariat, caught on the back foot, say they have not kept a list.

The Chair says the only way to get such a list would be to take a Roll Call vote (where each Member calls out Yes or No). China says ‘yes please’.

The Roll Call goes ahead 8-7 in favour of the EU proposal.

However, what’s this? Dominica had left the room during the second vote and when the delegate came back he asked ‘what had occurred’?

The Chair explained and then – in a move entirely out of order with the Rules of Procedure which state that only those ‘present’ in the room may cast their votes – asked the representative of the Dominican Republic if he want to cast his vote now that he was back in the room.

Of course he readily agreed and levelled the result at 8/8

A tie!

The Chair then turned to the delegate from Switzerland (who has the role of voting to break deadlocks) and asked him to vote accordingly.

Switzerland supported the EU Proposal. The result: 9 votes in favour and 8 against. So the Secretariat will now go ahead and produce an historical review of the use of secret ballots…… a matter which remains of serious concern to many Parties and conservation experts.

Wow! Welcome to the sometimes baffling World of CITES!

Blogging off!