The 28th Meeting of the CITES Animals Committee was held in September, attended by representatives of SCI Foundation and SCI. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an agreement between governments that regulates international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants to ensure that trade does not threaten their survival. The Animals Committee is a scientific committee of CITES that undertakes a special review of the biology and trade in select species.
CITES Secretary General John Scanlon opened the conference by reminding participants that while there are many views on species, CITES is governed by the text of the CITES convention and decisions must be science-based. In essence, the leader of the CITES convention said that some interests, such as animals rights and welfare interests, lie outside of this convention–bold remarks in the present climate.
While the Secretary General may have been referencing the international popularity and outrageous reactions over “Cecil the lion,” his comments sweep broadly over many species, including the polar bear.
Protection of the polar bear continues to be a top priority for animal rights and welfare organizations. Predominantly based in the United States, these groups have incessantly argued to maximize trade regulations for polar bear since 2010.
In 2010, the United States proposed to uplist polar bear to CITES Appendix I, the maximum protection status CITES can provide, which is exclusively for species threatened with extinction and permits trade in those species only under exceptional circumstances. This proposal was rejected. In 2013, the same proposal was rejected a second time. Even though the status of polar bear populations has improved since 2010 and 2013, and despite a wealth of new science and management efforts that are in place to ensure a limited and controlled polar bear harvest is not detrimental to the species, the United States recently announced they will likely propose to uplist polar bear to Appendix I, again, in 2016.
At this meeting, the CITES Animals Committee removed the polar bear from the Review of Significant Trade, because range states were properly managing the species, and trade levels were determined not to be a concern. Review of Significant Trade aims to determine whether current trade is a significant factor limiting the success of the species.
Nonetheless, animal welfare and animal rights groups will continue applying pressure to list species important to their constituencies. If polar bear is again proposed for CITES Appendix I in 2016, SCI Foundation and the world will be keen to learn what new arguments will be attempted the next time around.
SCI and SCI Foundation supported additional outcomes of the CITES Animals Committee that involved game species. Cameroon hippopotamus is still under special review until the Animals Committee can determine that harvest levels are non-detrimental. Currently, Cameroon is allowed a quota of 10 hippos each year until they demonstrate that a larger harvest can be supported. Trade in white-lipped peccary in all range states will continue without change, as trade levels were found not to be significant. Lastly, and due to unforeseen delays in reporting, decisions on the African lion were deferred until a later date.
SCI Foundation is pleased to see that the decisions made by the CITES Animals Committee at this meeting were science-based, consistent with John Scanlon’s opening remarks about the governing framework of CITES. Science is still the basis of decision making by CITES for regulating trade.