Archive for the ‘CITES’ Category

CITES – Why it needs your support!

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Dear Friends,

On the 24th September several thousand people will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Another ‘talking shop’ I hear you groan. Why don’t we just get on and save the animals!?  What’s the point of yet another conference when species such as elephant, rhino, pangolin, lion, tiger and many more are in such dire straits? What’s the point of CITES anyway?

HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s just what some of the all-consuming, pro-trade lobby want –  not to mention the illegal criminal networks and poaching syndicates making a killing exploiting wildlife.

Let me explain:

People often say to me that we should get rid of CITES. That it has failed.

For sure, CITES can be improved but, for a moment, imagine that it did not exist.

Then we all said ‘you know what, all these species in trade need some sort of protection. We need an international treaty that is aimed at controlling and, where necessary, preventing trade in species whose future could be in jeopardy because of trade. We’ll need to have a Secretariat to make sure countries stick to the rules and so that, at least in principle, everyone plays by those rules. That Secretariat, with our support, needs to be able to suspend all trade in species of wild fauna and flora from any country that goes too far. We’ll need a body in each country – let’s call it the Scientific Authority – to rigorously assess the viability of any trade in live animals and plants or specimens. We’ll need another body – let’s call it the Management Authority – in each country to ensure that national laws are compliant with the terms of the Treaty and to manage trade at a national level. And we’ll have a meeting of all the contracting countries – the Parties – every 2 or 3 years, where proposals relating to trade will be discussed, where additional protection can be approved and where, if we agree, international trade can be suspended or banned. Oh, and let’s agree that a vote of two thirds or more in favour of any motion will be internationally binding…”

Sounds like a pretty important concept to me. But remember, in this fantasy world I have created, it doesn’t exist. It’s an idea we’ve just dreamed up.

Now ask yourselves: Would we, today, ever be able to turn such an idea into reality? I suspect the answer would be a solid NO. A quick look at the other environmental agreements such as the Convention on Migratory Species or the Convention on Biological Diversity, important in their own right, clearly demonstrates that unlike CITES they simply do not have the ability to hold countries to account, to introduce trade sanctions at a global level, ban international trade in ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, lion and tiger body parts and so much more.

That is why I have attended every CITES meeting since 1989, fighting for the highest levels of protection under international law possible for species threatened by global trade. That is why I will be there in Johannesburg with my Born Free colleagues, Mark, Adam, Gabriel, Tim, Alice, Manori and Marion, as well as delegates from the influential Species Survival Network to challenge those who would trade at any cost, those who would commercialise and commodify wild animals and plants, risking, in my view, their very survival.

We have CITES and we must be thankful for that and we must make the most of it, make it work to its full potential and ensure that, as far as I am concerned, it delivers a precautionary agenda so that we don’t speculate on our wildlife heritage but we conserve and protect and nurture it.

Support our work and follow the events of CITES CoP17 as they unfold here!

Born Free is the voice for the voiceless and your support makes our voice louder still. Thank you.

Blogging off


Final Day of CITES 2014

Friday, July 11th, 2014
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.

Important Ivory trade Update 23/01/14

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014


Following China’s destruction of 6 tonnes of its ivory stockpile, Hong Kong has committed to destroying 28 tonnes of seized ivory, with 1.6 tonnes being held back for ‘education purposes’.

Over the past two years, Born Free has recorded the seizure of at least 14.2 tonnes by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies and some estimate the Region’s stockpile at 33 tonnes. So this destruction goes a long way to destroying the majority of this stockpile.

It’s massive. The biggest destruction of illegal ivory stocks in history. Even a year ago to think that China and Hong Kong would take such decisive action would have been fantasy. Are they now set to become global leaders in the fight against the ivory trade and poaching?

Now we need to go the extra mile. Close domestic markets  – no more selling ivory. Support Africa’s conservationists and the rangers in the field to make sure they get the training, equipment and support they need to protect elephants from the poachers. Use our global intelligence-gathering machinery to infiltrate and destroy the criminal syndicates that are behind the bloody slaughter. Stop the poaching of elephants and selling of ivory funding militant and terrorist organisations determined to destabilise communities far and wide.

Thank you!

Help protect elephants by visiting

Alert to elephant lovers everywhere 20/01/14

“In 3 weeks, the UK hosts a High Level Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Crime. What will our response be? My advice is clear. Give Africa the means to do the job. Put serious funding from our Overseas Aid Budget behind the African Elephant Action Plan and support the rangers who risk their lives daily to protect Africa’s wildlife heritage. “

China has now joined the US, Gabon, and the Philippines in recently crushing its ivory stopckpile – six tons of confiscated elephant tusks. It remains to be seen whether China’s ivory crush is a true step in the right direction for the world’s largest consumer of ivory. Publicity stunt or move toward an end to China’s domestic ivory market?

China’s crush took place in what many consider to be the epicenter of the country’s illegal ivory trade. But Hong Kong, one of China’s Special Administrative Regions, is a known consumer destination for ivory from elephants poached in Africa and is also a key transit point for ivory entering China.

It’s time for Hong Kong to destroy its ivory, too. Compassionate conservationists across the globe must make our voices heard: no more bloody ivory trade!

On the 23rd of January, next Thursday, a meeting of the Endangered Species Advisory Committee is being held in Hong Kong to discuss the option of destruction for the country’s stockpile. Let’s make sure they do the right thing. Write to:

Over the past two years, Born Free has recorded the seizure of at least 14.2 tonnes by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies ( and some estimate the Region’s stockpile at 33 tonnes.

Few would have imagined China would ever consider holding an ivory destruction event. But it’s been under consideration by the Hong Kong authorities for a while, since at least 2012. ‘Let’s open a museum, hold an exhibition. Give it to schools, universities and colleges’, they’ve been saying – ‘it’s educational’. Where have we heard this before?! If ivory is not on an elephant roaming wild and free it has no place on earth – not around a neck or a wrist, not on a mantelpiece and not in government reserves stashed away for a rainy day.

Blogging off,


South Africa to propose rhino horn trade

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

South Africa has announced that it will officially push for rhino horn trade at the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (2016), using horn from rhinos that have died of natural causes. Here’s my take!

Even taken at its most optimistic… 3% natural mortality (whatever that is), from circa 20,000 rhino, equalling 600 horns with an average weight on 5kg per horn (3,000kg in total) and using the dosage weight proposed by Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes of 1.5 grammes per dose (meaning 3,000kg would equate to 2,000,000 doses), such a plan would, in all likelihood, barely touch the surface of demand (which, recall, is currently being serviced – unsuccessfully – by 668 poached rhino in 2012 and possibly as many as 900+ rhino in 2013). Therefore, in my view, poaching will continue and possibly increase since poachers will undercut whatever the legal price is set at (which is likely to be high to generate income and, supposedly, drive down demand – which it won’t).

Furthermore, creating a legal market has one other devastating impact. It will confirm in the minds of many purchasers that using rhino horn has medicinal validity – even when we know it does not. Minister Molewa, the Chair of the Private Rhino Owners Association of SA, the Chair of the Professional Hunters Association of SA, the Secretary General of CITES, the SA Ambassador to Thailand and Johnny de Lange MP (amongst others on the panel) were asked – by me in person, directly at a South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March – (quoting The Mail and Guardian, 22nd March 2013) ‘to raise their hands if they believed rhino horn had medicinal benefits or could cure cancer. None of them did.’

So what are they saying by legalising rhino-horn trade? Here is a product that every sensible scientist says has no significant impact and they are going to sell it at huge cost to a public that is ill-informed. I wouldn’t go to sleep at night if I thought I was selling something like that to a Vietnamese family who have scrimped and saved every cent to buy rhino horn for their dying grandmother, who then goes and dies.

SA seems determined to push for legal trade at CITES CoP17 in 2016. But they will need to get the support of 66% or more of the 178 CITES Parties. I can only hope and pray that common-sense and a degree of morality prevail, and that the proposal is soundly defeated. They need as many as 117 Parties to agree with their misguided proposal and we need to persuade those Parties to say NO!

There is nothing sensible, logical, ethical or acceptable about legalising rhino horn trade – from natural mortality or anywhere else.

Read a full account of my intervention at the South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March here .

Blogging off


Global leaders vote to protect many wildlife species at Bangkok meeting

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Dear Friends:

I write to you on the final day of deliberations at the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has deliberated in Bangkok for two weeks on some of the most important wildlife conservation issues of our time.

And for those same two weeks the Born Free team has fought to address the rhino and elephant poaching crises, the intensive captive breeding of tigers, commercial logging of endangered tree species, the unsustainable fisheries that consume tens of millions of sharks each year, and so much more.

I am pleased to report that we have won success after success in these hard-fought debates. Vietnam, a major rhino horn consumer, was taken to task and urged to reduce demand; the West African manatee received the Treaty’s strongest protection with the support of almost all of the species’ range States; the African Elephant Action Plan, a blueprint for the species’ survival across the continent was reaffirmed and mechanisms for allowing new ivory trade were postponed; renewed calls to act on big cat conservation – lions, tigers, and cheetah – were sounded loudly; and commercially-fished shark and tree species were added to the CITES list of protected species for the first time.

A resounding success indeed!

So to the Born Free team, the Species Survival Network team, the team of dedicated government delegates who supported our positions where it matters most, and to you, who supported us every step of the way, I say thank you.

For the animals,


Watch a clip of Will’s address


Friday, March 8th, 2013

Member countries of CITES today considered the delicate issue of the trade in cheetah from Africa to the Middle East. Born Free strongly supported the document presented by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, calling for an important study of legal and illegal trade in cheetah.

Given a lack of comprehensive data regarding the nature and extent of the international cheetah trade, it is currently hard to determine the overall impact that the trade may be having on this iconic species; however, Born Free believes the trade to be increasingly problematic for the cheetah.

Born Free has first-hand knowledge of this issue through its work at Born Free Ethiopia, which, in partnership with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, has established the Ensessakotteh Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre outside Addis Ababa.

At the centre, we care for a number of rescued animals, including cheetah confiscated from the illegal pet trade. We have evidence of cheetah being smuggled from either Kenya or Ethiopia to Somaliand as a transit point to the final destination. Current information suggests that this trade is continuing unabated and there may be dozens of illegally acquired cheetah being held in the region.

We are honoured to be working with the Ethiopian authorities to provide lifetime care for rescued individual animals, and we hope to release these animals back into the wild where possible. That said, the real goal should be to stop the illegal trade from creating this problem in the first place.

As member countries to CITES know, more widespread anecdotal evidence suggests that the trade is extensive and hundreds of live animals a year may be leaving the Horn of Africa.

Born Free believes that wildlife belongs in the wild and in the case of cheetah, not in the commercial pet trade.

Blogging off,


On Selling Rhino Horn

Thursday, March 7th, 2013


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the self-professed world’s largest professional global conservation network and a forum for governments, NGOs, scientists, business and local communities to meet the challenges facing conservation.

In September 2012, IUCN members adopted many Resolutions and  Recommendations, one of which “recognize(d) that the successful conservation of rhinos across the entire range will be best achieved via a diversity of management and economic mechanisms” and furthermore called on African countries with rhinos to “maintain enabling land-use and investment policies together with support for appropriate and well-managed, sustainable, income-generating options that encourage investment in rhinos, sustainable populations and which help fund effective conservation by the private wildlife industry and communities”.

Confusing for the non-scientist? Need translation into English? To successfully bring the current rhino poaching epidemic – which is a serious crisis – under control we shouldn’t just be thinking about wildlife law enforcement, demand reduction in ‘consumer’ countries, etc. but also the legalisation and sale of rhino horn, likely to the same markets driving the poaching in the first place. The fact that this has already been tried in the case of elephant ivory and not only failed miserably to bring elephant poaching under control  but also further stimulated demand, seems to be lost on these ‘experts’. What parallel universe are they living in?

Unfortunately, this Recommendation was used by pro-trade advocates and some members of the IUCN Rhino Specialist Group at their side event at the current CITES meeting in Bangkok yesterday, seeking to promote the idea of a proposal to sell rhino horn. Rhinos are coming up for discussion this Friday and two more side events are also planned, one of which, entitled ‘Rhino Economics’ to be attended by the relevant South African Minister, leaves nothing to the imagination for what agenda it might be promoting.

I dare say it’s a good thing Born Free is here to bring some reason and common sense to the otherwise confused conservation priorities and plans of a self-serving few…

Blogging off


End the tiger trade, once and for all

Monday, March 4th, 2013

I long for a time when CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) decisions and national enforcement on the ground are sufficient to provide a safety net that allows wild tiger populations to recover and tiger poachers and tiger parts profiteers to be deterred from plying their deadly trade.

Since 1993 CITES Parties have recognised that trade bans alone are insufficient to demonstrably deter the trade in tiger parts. Additional, measurable, and powerful other actions are essential. Among them: eliminating domestic trade, destroying stockpiles of tiger parts and products, and stopping once and for all the intensive commercial breeding of tigers for trade.

For many Tiger Range States, the focus of time and money has been on protecting tigers in the wild. This includes funding wildlife law enforcement agencies targeting criminals engaged in tiger trade, and dismantling the criminal networks that back these insidious individuals.

Whilst millions of dollars have been invested in enforcement and other demand reduction strategies to reach consumers, there has been a growth in operations – some legal, some illegal – breeding tigers for trade in parts and products; undermining those vital field efforts.

And even where police action is effective in making seizures and arrests, the criminal justice system may not fully prosecute or punish offenders.

Legal domestic trade in captive tiger parts stimulates a dangerous demand that imperils wild tigers everywhere. This legal trade also undermines the will of the CITES Parties in Resolution Conference 12.5 and Decision 14.69. This decision makes it quite clear that tigers should not be bred for the trade in their parts and products.

Since 2007, however, there has been insufficient reporting by relevant Parties to demonstrate compliance. Evidenced most recently in the lack of reporting to the CITES Secretariat in response to a request for information on how many facilities there are, how many tigers are in those facilities, how big are the stockpiles of tiger parts and products and why are they being kept? What steps are being taken to phase out the operations that are engaged in breeding for trade?

We believe that these questions must be answered immediately and that CITES Parties must remain vigilant on the tiger issue. As long as the tiger is at risk in the wild, as long as the tiger is bred in captivity for commercial trade, as long as there are fewer than 4,000 tigers remaining in the wild, CITES Parties must speak unequivocally on this issue. Action at every level is needed.

Blogging off,


Introducing the tiger farming event at CITES meeting

CITES Standing Committee: A Reflection

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
Dear Friends,

Thank you for all of your messages of support during the intense and challenging CITES meeting last week. Now that we are back home from Geneva, we need to reflect on what happened and ascertain exactly which mountains we still need to climb in the build-up to the much bigger CITES meeting in March next year, known as “CoP16”  (the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES).    I have reflected on some of these issues below:

African Elephants: It was extremely encouraging to see recognition by CITES last week that elephants are facing a serious poaching crisis across their entire range, and that urgent measures must be taken to tackle this.  However, the real challenge now is to find an agreement about what those urgent measures should be.  Some still believe that legal trade is the answer.   However, experts like Born Free believe the exact opposite to be the case!  The ban should be  strengthened.  Furthermore, funds should be provided to implement the African Elephant Action Plan, which contains all the activities needed to protect elephants across Africa.  The fierce debate will continue at CoP16, as we are likely to see proposals for ivory trade and the controversial  ‘decision-making mechanism’ for legalised trade being discussed.  Keep an eye on for news on CITES ivory issues in the build-up to CoP16.

Asian Elephants: For the first time, CITES recognised that the illegal trade in wild, live-caught elephants in Asia is a serious threat.  Reports have revealed that elephants are being smuggled from Myanmar to Thailand for use in tourist camps and for export to circuses in China.  Born Free would like to congratulate our SSN Colleagues at Elephant Family for their hard work and dedication on this issue, and it is something we will push the CITES Parties to take strong action on at CoP16.

Tigers: The battle against tiger farming continues… China remains determined to retain its sovereign right to ‘farm’ tigers and states that this has no impact on poaching of wild tigers.  However, CITES took strong action last week by directing all countries to declare all stockpiles of captive-bred or confiscated tiger body parts and derivatives along with actions proposed to deal with the stockpiles.  Together with our SSN Friends at the Environmental Investigation Agency we will be keeping a close eye on the reports (especially from China) that result from this.

Grey Parrots: It was extremely disappointing to see CITES approve the lifting of the suspension of grey parrot exports from Cameroon.  From now on, 3,000 birds a year will be exported for the pet trade, but this is only the tip of the iceberg as untold numbers die in the process of capture.  Born Free has supported the efforts of the wildlife law enforcement organisation in Cameroon called LAGA who have on numerous occasions prevented illegal trade in grey parrots.  LAGA will need more support than ever now that the ban has been lifted as there is a real chance the illegal trade will flourish and criminal syndicates will exploit the situation.

Rhinoceros: last week CITES Parties expressed alarm at the extremely serious rhino poaching situation.  So far this year, 296 rhino have been killed in South Africa alone.  CITES, led by the UK, proposed actions to try and stop the illegal trade, including the development a demand-reduction strategy, based on ‘…evidence of traditional cultural practices and beliefs about the medicinal and beneficial properties of rhino horn’. Vietnam was also tasked with providing a significant amount of information to CITES, including measures in place to monitor the rhino horn market. See Will’s video blog here.

There will be many, many more issues that could be decided at CoP16, including trade in timber species and sharks (the global shark fin trade is having a devastating impact).  Born Free will keep you updated on as many of these issues as possible.

The international trade in endangered species is massive business.  It is worth billions of dollars every year.  Good decisions by CITES result in long-term protection for a species, whilst bad decisions can lead to extinction.

I am so pleased that Born Free is there to protect species in need and support countries that want to protect their wildlife from unsustainable trade.  Our CITES team couldn’t do this without your help, and we all sincerely thank you for this.

Blogging off,


Trade in Ivory – No Thanks!

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Earlier in the week – on Tuesday, which seems like an age ago – Dr Rowan Martin, a longtime advocate of legal ivory trade, submitted a report on a Decision-Making Mechanism for future ivory trade.

However, the report, which contained many flaws (inaccuracies, personal opinions and a proposal which may even be illegal under international law concerning the establishment of an ivory cartel) was roundly criticised by many Parties here at the Standing Committee including the USA, EU, Kenya, India, Israel, Central African Republic, Congo and more.

In light of these criticisms it was decided on Tuesday that a small group would go away and come back with recommendations as to what to do with this $50,000 report!

Today, Botswana, in consultation with the UK and others including Kenya, reported the following to the CITES Standing Committee:

1. The CITES Secretariat will invite further comments from the stakeholders who have already worked on the study.

2. Comments must be submitted by 31 August 2012

3. On the basis of the study and responses received, the Secretariat will review the information and prepare a document consolidating all comments for review by the same stakeholders and Chair of the Standing Committee.

5. Chair should take all comments into account and prepare a document for consideration of the next Conference of the Parties to CITES (Thailand in March 2013)

6. The report of the Chair of the Standing Committee should make it clear that it does not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Standing Committee.

7. The responses of the stakeholders will be made public where they have given permission.

Kenya spoke immediately after Botswana reminding the Standing Committee that all documents must be translated into French to ensure that the majority of African Elephant Range States (the Francophones) can fully participate in the process.

So here’s my take on all this. A terrible report is almost, but not quite, dead and buried. The process that might lead to a future legal trade in ivory needs to be fully reconsidered (and CoP16 in Thailand is FAR too early) and speculation about whether there may be legal trade in the near future needs to be taken off the table as it is, in my view, fuelling demand and elephant slaughter.

We need to be totally clear: No more trade; No more killing; No more buying. Africa and Asia’s elephants need a break!

If you want to hear more about my personal views on this then please go to my latest video blog!