Advocates for Animals

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Blog: The International Wildlife Trade Conference Geneva 2019

Colourful lizzard

How to balance international commerce without driving species to extinction

Every three years there is an international meeting that takes place to talk about international wildlife trade. The wildlife trade is worth billions of dollars annually and the overarching question is how to balance this international commerce without driving species to extinction.

The meetings are convened by the members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty enacted in 1975.

CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. The 2019 conference considered a wide range of decisions to expand and strengthen the global wildlife trade regime. A highlight was the 57 proposals that governments submitted for changing the levels of protection afforded to over 500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants.

Among the matters the 183 members addressed at the latest meeting, which ran from August 17 through August 28 in Geneva, Switzerland were the future of the ivory trade, illegal killings of rhinos and the rhino horn trade, management of African elephant populations and the booming exotic pet business.

As you can imagine, there were numerous issues needing to be discussed to ensure the safety and conservation of our wildlife and nature. However, the main decisions are described below.

More than a third of the proposals at the CITE summit were in relation to reptiles and amphibians.

Amphibians and reptiles are often popular as pets for their attractive colouring or rarity. The proposal to list a shy Caribbean lizard called the Union Island gecko on Appendix I, a designation that would ban all international commercial trade, was accepted by consensus with no objections.

This little lizard (sometimes known as the Grenadines clawed gecko) was discovered in 2005, yet poachers soon smuggled so many from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for the exotic pet industry that local officials and herpetologists abroad became concerned. There are now estimated to be no more than 10,000 left—an 80 percent loss in the wild, according to a representative for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The Indian star tortoise also received Appendix I listing, it has no known captive breeding facilities and is heavily poached for the exotic pet industry. The species lives only in three countries (India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), and Sri Lanka said it’s “critical” to give it immediate Appendix I protection, which would ban all international commercial trade. The EU, which supported the proposal, said that tens of thousands of Indian star tortoises are taken for the illegal trade each year.

The world’s smallest otter also received new protection, which bans international trade.

Unfortunately, the woolly mammoth will not be treated as an endangered species, as it was intended to enhance the protection of elephants from the illegal ivory trade, as carved mammoth ivory is largely indistinguishable from that of elephants. The trade in mammoth ivory, sometimes known as ice ivory, has grown in recent years as permafrost in Siberia has melted, making the remains of these long extinct animals more accessible.

Russia, the main exporter of mammoth ivory, opposed the proposition. Representatives from Canada, the United States, and the European Union also objected, saying there’s insufficient evidence that an Appendix II listing would help elephants, and a lack of data proving that mislabelling elephant ivory has become a significant problem. In addition, Canada and the U.S. said that the listing would put a significant burden on law enforcement and exporters.

Overall, this conference resulted in some definite progress for some of the world's threatened species. Although challenges around enforcement and available data proved insurmountable on this occasion, the fairly global participation in this conference continues to be encouraging.

Samera Hussain
LLM Graduate
Independent Contributor

We are grateful to everyone who contributes to the Advocates for Animals blog. Blogs should not be taken as legal advice nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the firm

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