The excitement and bluster of a wild week for elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, and other species now wanes in the final day of the CITES Standing Committee meeting. While the Committee reviews reports from the week, my thoughts start churning in anticipation of the next international wildlife trade event — the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in Doha, Qatar next March. There is such an incredible amount of work to do in the next eight months!
Despite fervent hopes that elephants and ivory trade would not dominate CITES until at least 2017 (after decisions taken at the 2007 CITES meeting), we now know that the elephant debate could reach new heights in 2010. At least three new countries are slated to petition for more elephant trade — widening continental discord at a time when African unity is most needed. Here at the Standing Committee, the European Union, including the UK, have refused to take a stand against further elephant down-listing proposals. I fear that ivory trading interests will be encouraged by Europe’s conciliatory silence.
Tigers, on the other hand, fared better: China and others must answer for their “tiger farms”; the mighty World Bank has brought its weight to bear with a loud public pronouncement on the need to improve the security and long-term viability of wild tigers throughout their range and stop the potentially disastrous practice of breeding tigers for their parts.
The catastrophic state of rhino conservation was also highlighted. It seems likely that the levels of rhino poaching will be at their highest for 15 years and I believe this has been stimulated by previous and ill-advised CITES decisions permitting the re-opening of rhino trophy-hunting. The situation is especially bad in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
These and the challenges facing other species such as sturgeon, mahogany, crocodiles, numerous birds and reptiles will all be our priorities in the months ahead. The illegal trade in live wild great apes into and out of Egypt simply must be addressed and we hope that the words of the Egyptian Ambassador, who committed his country to stopping the trade, will be turned into practice.
Some people wonder if CITES is worth it. All the efforts, all the meetings all the talking, all the costs. My answer is simple. Perfection is the enemy of the good. What would the natural world look like without the Convention? I think things would be worse: unfettered ivory trade, massive deforestation and timber sales, unregulated commercialization of tiger bones and bear gallbladders and sea turtle shells, a live animal trade run amok.
That’s why I am committed to CITES, to making the Convention more effective, to helping countries use CITES to bring greater protection to species under threat. And this is especially true for developing countries that need assistance the most to properly protect their indigenous animals and plants.
Born Free has been part of CITES for two decades now — in our own right and as part of the Species Survival Network. I hope that readers will appreciate our efforts and will do what they can to support our continued involvement. We are the voice for the animals in a world increasingly dominated by human noise.