Safari Club International and SCI Foundation (collectively, Safari Club) staff were in Geneva in mid-January for the 66th CITES Standing Committee (SC66) Meeting. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international treaty that regulates trade of animals and plants. SC66 was the last Committee meeting prior to the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17), which will be held in South Africa later this year. The meeting’s agenda was packed with important issues for Safari Club and all advocates for sustainable use conservation. Overall, Safari Club staff is pleased with the outcomes of SC66.
The issue of CITES and Livelihoods was of particular significance to SCI Foundation. SCI Foundation was instrumental in launching the CITES and Livelihoods working group to assess the impact of trade in CITES-listed species on the livelihoods of local communities. After years of work, the working group produced a Livelihoods Handbook which countries will use to assess the benefits of wildlife trade to the people that coexist with endangered species. The handbook was presented and discussed at SC66. Markhor and Southern White Rhino are included in the handbook as example case studies. Studies for additional species, including polar bear, are being conducted as potential additional cases. The goal of the handbook is to document the importance of sustainable use of these endangered species to local people.
Early work by the CITES and Livelihoods working group was met with opposition, including by the US. The mood at SC66 was quite the opposite. Every comment given during discussion of the handbook and the working group was enthusiastic and positive. The IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, expressed strong support for involving people in conservation via sustainable use, highlighting the fact that community engagement prevents wildlife crime and trafficking.
Wildlife trafficking, another issue important to SCI Foundation, was discussed extensively at SC66. The Committee made decisions to fight illicit wildlife trafficking concerning elephants, cheetahs, rhinos, pangolins, sharks, tigers, high value timber and many other species.
For elephants, no issue was more controversial than a recommendation for the Committee to suspend work on a decision-making mechanism for the potential future commercial trade of ivory. After the 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP16) in 2013, a working group was established to create a process through which CITES would approve or reject an application for the sale of legally acquired elephant ivory – known as a decision-making mechanism. A 9-year moratorium on ivory trade for Appendix II countries will expire in 2017, and the parties to CITES wanted the process in place to handle future applications after the expiration of the moratorium. Rather than establishing the decision-making mechanism, however, the Standing Committee suspended work on the issue. SCI Foundation does not agree with the Committee’s decision.
Much of Africa has seen an increase in elephant poaching in recent years. Despite international momentum against legal ivory trade, moratoriums and trade bans clearly do not work. CITES should not close the door on the possibility of legal sale as a solution and to support conservation of elephants in the future. This issue is not finalized.
African leopards were also discussed. Under CITES, leopards have a special quota and tagging system. At SC66, no problems were reported with implementing the leopard system. Many countries offered positive remarks about the system, and CITES may propose to use a similar system for other species in the future.
The IUCN intends to update the Red List Assessment for leopards from “near threatened” to “vulnerable” in June 2016. The IUCN’s announcement and presentation on leopards did not denounce hunting or suggest that hunting was a threat to leopard populations; however, an age requirement for hunting may be endorsed. Hunting is one of the few instruments that gives the species value and allows local communities to tolerate the big cat.
The CITES framework is the world’s most powerful tool for biodiversity conservation, with 182 Parties regulating over 35,000 plant and animal species. The CoP17 will take place this September and October in South Africa.
For more independent reporting on CITES SC66, go to http://www.iisd.ca/cites/sc66/. For more CITES updates from SCI Foundation, go to our blog First for Wildlife and search CITES.
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