CITES CoP19: Week one round-up

21 November 2022


Born Free is fighting for wild species at a major global wildlife trade conference, with good news for elephants and important protections for sharks and trees.

During an intense first week of the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) in Panama City, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, recommended new protections for a raft of important tree and marine species.

Around 2,500 delegates, including representatives from more than 140 governments, have descended on Panama for the two-week Conference, which takes place roughly every three years. Born Free is in Panama, working with colleagues from the global Species Survival Network of almost 100 organisations dedicated to protecting animals and plants not only from illegal trade but also from the often devastating impacts of legal international wildlife trade.

During week one, government delegates agreed that all species of requiem, bonnethead and hammerhead sharks, which are threatened by the deadly international demand for shark fins, should be regulated under CITES by listing them on Appendix II requiring exporting countries to ensure any future exports are legal and sustainable. Seven species of Brazilian freshwater stingrays were also recommended for Appendix II, along with all 37 species of guitarfishes which are threatened by overexploitation for their meat and fins, and slow reproducing sea cucumbers.

The Conference also recommended protections for a raft of Latin American, African and Asian tree species, which are threatened by rampant overharvesting to supply international commercial timber markets.

Several important decisions affecting mammal species were also taken during this first week. Attempts to harmonise the international ban on trade in African elephants and elephant products by returning the populations of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to CITES Appendix I failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed. However, a proposal by Zimbabwe that could have opened up commercial trade in ivory and other African elephant products was roundly defeated, thereby maintaining the current CITES protections for Africa’s elephants.

Some important recommendations on the monitoring and surveillance systems for elephant poaching and trade were also agreed, including further scrutiny by CITES of legal domestic markets for ivory products which fuel the continued poaching of elephants for their tusks.

While a proposal by a group of eight African nations to introduce an outright ban on the export of live wild-caught African elephants to zoos and other captive facilities was not adopted, CoP19 did agree to a moratorium on further live exports while a long-term legal framework is negotiated over the coming months, providing some respite for Africa’s elephants from the cruel and damaging capture of wild individuals and their export to zoos. Sadly, an attempt by ten African countries to secure a ban on all international trade in hippo products by raising the level of protection for hippos from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I was defeated, with both the EU and UK delegations voting against. Hippo tusks and teeth are in increasing demand in international markets as a replacement for elephant ivory, and hippo populations are declining across much of their range.

The role of CITES in preventing future pandemics emerging from wildlife trade is being debated, and the world will be anticipating a strong response from CITES to this particularly hot topic.

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy who is leading the charity’s delegation in Panama, said: “As always with CITES, this first week has been a mixed bag. We welcome the adoption of vital protections for trees and marine species, and the rejection of cynical efforts by Zimbabwe to open up the trade in African elephant products. However, it was disappointing to see the Conference reject efforts to ensure all African elephant populations are given maximum protection, and the failure to increase protection for hippos leaves them vulnerable to further exploitation. The rejection of a proposal for an outright and permanent ban on the export of live, wild-caught African elephants was also very disappointing, although the agreed moratorium at least provides some respite.”

With so many species threatened with extinction, often as a result of overexploitation for international trade, the outcome of this CITES CoP has never been more important. We will continue to call on all governments here in Panama to be brave and step up by giving species the maximum level of protection, thereby enabling them to play their full part in the ecosystems on which we all depend.

The decisions made thus far have all been made in Committee and these outcomes must still be ratified by the plenary sessions at the end of the Conference before they come into force. Many other issues are yet to be considered including protections for rhinos, big cats, pangolins, and more than 200 species of reptiles and amphibians threatened by global demand for the exotic pet trade. Born Free’s delegation continues to work tirelessly to seek maximum protection for species affected by the international wildlife trade.

For regular updates from CoP19 in Panama follow us on Twitter @BornFreeFDN, and our co-founder and President Will Travers OBE @willtravers who is attending CoP19 in his capacity as President of the Species Survival Network.

Images © / © M Chivers / © Bernard DUPONT, Flickr cc