The final report from the Born Free team, Will Travers and Gabriel Fava, from the Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.
It has been quite a week for wildlife! I have been attending CITES meetings
(some might call it a self-inflicted wound) for 25 years and I sense a distinct change of mood at this latest Standing Committee meeting. Here are some of the highlights.
While it was relatively encouraging to hear of progress being made by a number of the countries most heavily afflicted by poaching and illegal trade, and while it was also encouraging to hear Party after Party speak of their determination to help deal with the crisis, and although the EU particularly stood out in terms of the provision of new finance and other resources to help in the fight, the bottom line is that CITES remains schizophrenic on the matter of ivory trade. Some Parties (I believe the majority) recognise that there should be no future trade. Others, however, want to keep their options open and continue to support the development of a Decision Making Mechanism for future trade in ivory. This, sadly, keeps the issue of trade alive and will doubtless encourage poachers, criminal networks and speculators to continue to make a killing, laundering their bloody ivory
through existing legal markets and planning for future slaughter on the basis of a future relaxation in trade controls.
The numbers remain shocking – 558 killed in South Africa to the start of July 2014 and just 157 arrests. While it was of some comfort that many Parties reported on actions they were taking to improve reporting, sharing of information, measures to enhance the protection of rhinos in the wild or to tackle markets and demand (and Viet Nam was particularly active in this regard), Mozambique’s lack of reporting and action was deeply disappointing and a number of Parties offered to help Mozambique greatly improve its performance. However, one matter was notable by its absence. South Africa failed to mention its continued efforts to promote the idea of legalising trade (it seems they are determined to put forward a Proposal for the Legalising of Rhino Horn trade to the CITES Conference of the Parties meeting they are hosting in October 2016). In our view this would encourage those who own rhino, stockpile rhino horn and poach rhino to believe that trade will be opened up in the future creating, we believe, an even greater enforcement nightmare and resulting in additional poaching pressure, adding to the current crisis.
Live Cheetah Trade
This is an emerging and serious threat to this fragile and rare species, as many Parties recognised. We were shocked by some of the information presented, including the fact that as many as 300 individuals are being illegally shipped out of Africa each year (I can only imagine how many more are killed and die during capture and shipment). The Kingdom of Saudia Arabia reported that in 2014 alone they have intercepted 25 live cheetah cubs, of which 9 died. Born Free highlighted our work with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority at our rescue and care facility – Ensessakotteh – outside of Addis Ababa which provides a home to confiscated cheetah. Importantly, if funds can be found, a Workshop will take place before the end of March 2015 to consider the status of cheetah in range States, transit countries and consumer countries, trade routes, the involvement of criminal networks and corruption issues.
As we know, the thousands of captive-bred tigers languishing in facilities in many Asian countries vastly outnumber the number of remaining wild tigers whose fragile populations continue to face numerous and intense threats. The last thing they need is for an expanding source of tiger skins, bones and meat to stimulate demand of wild tigers even further. When tigers were discussed this week, China finally admitted publicly that they had a legal trade in tiger skins, but strongly objected to including consideration of their domestic tiger trade in recommendations for future steps to be taken by the Standing Committee. Along with China, other countries, organisations, including Born Free, had helped to draft these recommendations in the sidelines of the meeting and when they were brought back to the rest of the participants, as expected, China tried to bury their domestic trade again. However, opposition was mounted by enough countries and organisations to push the recommendations through. China must surely now comply and we all have a stronger tool than before to build a future for wild tigers.
Little known but much threatened, the ‘scaly anteaters’ of Africa and Asia are sadly the latest poster boy of the illegal wildlife trade, supplying demand for their scales and meat in Asia. Little is known about these shy, nocturnal animals and the threats they face and the law courts and enforcement agencies seem ill-equipped to deal with the organised criminal syndicates syphoning pangolins out of their forest and desert homes. CITES approved a plan to seek comprehensive information from countries so that pangolin populations can be better protected under the Convention.