Wildlife ACT Operations Manager, Thandiwe Knutson, was fortunate enough to be part of a Youth Delegation of early conservation professionals attending and participating in the CITES 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The original Youth Delegation was intended to be 20 delegates strong, but due to a number of logistical complications after the CoP18 relocation from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Geneva, Switzerland, the delegation was cut down to just seven. Each individual represented different global regions, expertise and interests. Countries represented by the delegation were the Philippines, Malaysia, Georgia, Russia, Canada, Hawaii USA, and of course South Africa, for which Thandi was the sole representative.
A Brief intro to CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments, which officially entered into force on 1 July 1975. The aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The Convention is made up of 183 parties (countries) and non-state observers in the form of registered IGOs and NGOs. Roughly 30,000 plant species and 5,800 animal species are protected by CITES. To gain a better understanding on how the three Appendices and their criteria listing works find out more here.
Proposal Highlights from the African Region
With our species expertise being largely of Southern African species, Thandi paid close attention to tracking proposals submitted by African parties. These proposals include either up-listing or down-listing species (which makes their trade more or less restricted respectively) or amending the species-specific annotations. It is important to note that this is only a very small proportion of the 57 proposals put forward, and that proposals are pending final decision by the plenary on 28 August 2019. Below are just a few proposals that sparked Thandi’s interest and that she tracked closely. A full list of proposals can be found here.
- CoP18 Prop 5: The Proponents (Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger
and Senegal) propose the listing of Giraffa camelopardalis on CITES
- Result: Approved. Prop taken to a vote (106 Yes, 21 No, 7 Abstain)
- CoP18 Doc 48: Black Rhinoceros hunting trophies: export quota for South Africa
- Result: Approved with amendments. Hunting quota increased from 5 male Black Rhino to 0.5% of current total population in the year of export.
- CoP18 Prop 10: Zambia proposes that the population of African Elephant (Loxodonta
africana) of Zambia be down-listed from Appendix I to Appendix II
- Result: Rejected.
- CoP18 Doc 97: West African Vulture trade and conservation management.
- Result: Approved with amendments. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) to assist in the implementation of the trade-related aspects of the Vulture Multispecies Action Plan.
- CoP18 Doc17.1, 17.2 and 17.3:
Participation from rural communities within the
structure of CITES
- Result: Intersessional Working Group Formed. Interesting debate and general consensus were parties (countries) should include rural communities within their own regional structure.
- CoP18 Doc 23: Youth Engagement
- Result: Accepted. Encourage Parties to establish long-term youth engagement and empowerment and communicate progress to the Secretariat.
How NGOs such as Wildlife ACT Contribute
Data, data, data! The framework for species listings, and consequently protecting against the over-exploitation through international trade of these species, all comes down to adequate data collection and analysis. This process is managed through Non-detrimental Findings (NDFs). A NDF is a science-based risk assessment where the vulnerability of a species is considered in relation to how well it is managed.
Wildlife ACT’s monitoring teams, in collaboration with our conservation partners, and our intensive species-specific work, collects invaluable data. This data directly or indirectly contributes to National NDF assessments, in accordance with the CITES NDF checklist.
In addition, civil society in the form of IGOs and NGOs can be most valued and constructive observers. They have the opportunity to critique proposals in the form of written analyses leading up to a CITES Conference of the Parties meeting, or take the floor and voice support or concerns over specific proposals deliberated at CoP meetings.
Their transparent views often cut through the bureaucracies and corruption involved in the trade of our wild fauna and flora species. They can more easily take the side of the species in question, and not be subject to the pressure of a region and its potentially perilous agenda. They can be neutral facilitators or valued whistle blowers for issues that span several regions; regions that are either in conflict with one another or in corrupt cahoots. They are not as easily-swayed by monetary values of species, as they do not necessarily reap the benefits of a trade market. If informed and well-organised, they can be valued contributors to their region of operation.
Take Home Message on the Illegal Trade in Species
“Trade in fauna and flora species is a complex and often corrupt industry, says Thandi. I was constantly reminded throughout the CoP18 meeting that the fate of species often lies in human hands. We consume more than we need and easily buy into trends without critically reviewing the consequences. So, what can you do to be a force of change and contribute to species survival and NOT contribute to the illegal trade in species? My best advice is to be informed.”
- Do not support captive species centers which fuel an illegal live animal and body part trade market.
- Do not own exotic pets, but if you do, make sure to have the relevant permit.
- Think twice before sharing a “cute”animal video – as this may fuel an illegal and detrimental pet trade.
- Consume responsibly. Make sure your wooden carvings are not made from highly-threatened and deforested tree species.
- Donate financially or with your time to a meaningful conservation project.
- Be kind to the planet and its species. We are but a piece in the planet’s puzzle.
Written by Wildlife ACT Operations Manager, Thandiwe Knutson