40 students from 32 countries are into the final phase of the world’s most specialized university course in international wildlife trade. The students are all part of a Master’s course on The Management and Conservation of Species in Trade, run by the International University of Andalucía (UNIA) in Spain. The course provides training on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is aimed at those who are or will be responsible for implementing or working with the Convention.
184 countries have agreed to be bound by CITES and the course helps those who work with the national Management and Scientific Authorities or for Environmental Organizations, Non-governmental Organizations or academic institutions to better understand and better implement the Convention.
CITES regulates the international trade in more than 38 thousand species of animals and plants to make sure that their use is sustainable and doesn’t threaten the health of the species. The Masters course covers the fundamentals of the Convention and how it contributes to the conservation of biodiversity.
It’s based in the historic southern Spanish city of Baeza and this is the 14th edition that it’s run. 390 people from 106 countries have so far qualified and gone on to play their part in the global conservation of endangered wildlife species.
The CITES Secretariat provides guest lecturers who give the students expert insights into the day-to-day application of one of the oldest and most successful biodiversity conventions. Sofie H. Flensborg is the Head of the Outreach and Projects Unit of the CITES Secretariat, “The students are always enthusiastic and it’s very rewarding to work with them. It’s also fantastic knowing that the talented people you have in front of you will be going back to their home countries to make a difference to one of the biggest challenges we face, the conservation of nature and biodiversity.”
Dr Margarita Africa Clemente launched this Master’s course in 1997 and has directed all 14 editions. In the 14th edition she shared responsibility with Dr Mercedes Nuñez and Dr Rocio Hernandez. "Since the beginning, the CITES Secretariat has been involved in the Master's programme through its active support and collaboration, and many Parties and international programmes have provided staff participation as lecturers and/or funding to participants. This Master’s course has transformed the implementation of CITES throughout the world. One of the most significant results is that the alumni form an important network for the exchange of knowledge and experience and the fight against illegal trade, which undoubtedly strengthens and facilitates the implementation of CITES".
Among this year’s intake of students are those from CITES management authorities, conservation officers or land or forest management specialists. Dr Richard Muvunyi is Head of Rwanda’s Wildlife Veterinary Unit, responsible for the health of the wildlife in his country’s national parks and other areas. “It has been a privilege to go through this course. I have learnt a lot in Baeza, through this Master’s. It has broadened my mind about CITES and when I go back, I will try to change things towards what I have learnt here.”
Although their time on the Baeza campus is over, in order to pass and be awarded their advanced degree, the students will need to carry out research and then prepare and submit a thesis on one the subjects included in the course. Only once they have passed this final part, will they be awarded the coveted Master’s Degree.
Some of the Baeza students will, this year, have the chance to see the ultimate CITES decision-making body in action. Every three years, the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP) brings together specialists and experts to make the decisions that will shape the future of international trade in endangered species. This year the CoP is in Panama from November the 14th to the 25th and those students who are part of their country’s management authorities or who have been chosen to be delegates to the Conference will join nearly 4 thousand others at the event.
The International University of Andalucía is already looking at the fifteenth edition of the UNIA Master’s Degree for 2024 and the CITES Secretariat has confirmed its commitment to supplying lecturers who will help to bring on a new generation of experts in conservation and international trade in wild species.