Governments play a big part in combating the legal and illegal international trade in wildlife. This Saturday, a United Nations conference, known as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), will begin its deliberations and consider proposals at a two-week meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over 3,000 delegates from 183 countries will attend the meeting and our Humane Society International (HSI) team will be there, advocating to protect animals ranging in size from the tiny Cuban land snail to African elephants and dozens of other animals.
HSI partners with a number of other animal welfare and conservation groups throughout the world under the banner of the Species Survival Network to drive better outcomes for animals.
There has been a dramatic escalation of poaching and illegal wildlife trade over the past three years, since the last CITES meeting was held. The African elephant population has declined by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, mostly as a result of poaching for the illegal ivory trade, according to a new study from the Vulcan Foundation. An estimated 1,342 African rhinos were poached in 2015 for the illegal trade in their horns, according to African wildlife authorities. And in the past decade, wildlife traders killed and sold over one million pangolins – making that species the most trafficked mammal in the world. Much of the focus of this meeting will be on what global actions can be taken to address this crisis.
The serious harm caused by the capture and killing of wildlife for the legal international wildlife trade is also a problem that CITES will address. The African lion population decreased by 49 percent between 1993 and 2014, in part due to trophy hunting, and is now facing a new threat: trade in lion bones to Asia where they are used in medicinal tonics and wine. Populations of the silky shark have declined by over 70 percent, big-eye thresher sharks by 70 to 80 percent, and devil rays by at least 30 percent, due to trade in shark fins for shark fin soup and the ray’s gill plates for medicinal tonics in Asia.
Despite the obvious need for new and increased CITES protection for these and other species being championed by many countries around the world, a few nations are pressing to keep the status quo or even increase trade. Most African countries support giving African elephants the highest level of CITES protection, which would prohibit international commercial ivory trade, but Namibia and Zimbabwe are seeking CITES approval of international trade in ivory from elephants. Swaziland is proposing to legalize the international trade in rhino horn from their country.
Decisions taken at this meeting could have life-changing implications for some of the world’s most iconic and threatened species and dozens of lesser known animals. We will be there, working hard to convince countries to give these beleaguered creatures the protection they so desperately need. I’ll keep you updated on major developments.