CITES meeting to introduce a new generation of e-tools for wildlife conservation

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CITES meeting to introduce a new generation of e-tools for wildlife conservation

Rhinos, new partnerships for tigers, forest governance
and arrangements for next CITES conference also at the top of the agenda

Geneva, 6 July 2009 – a wiki manual to identify over 33,000 species, use of bar codes on alligator and other crocodile skins, DNA profiling to track wildlife products, monitoring Internet-related wildlife trade, e-permits and computerised Customs clearance systems are some of the innovative technologies to be presented at the 58th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to be held in Geneva from today till the 10th of July.

The CITES Standing Committee oversees the implementation of trade rules for the recovery of 892 endangered species and the sustainable use of other 33,000 wild animal and plant species, when the Conference of the 175 CITES member States is not in session. International trade in millions of products containing wildlife ingredients is also regulated by the Convention and monitored by this Committee.

Some 250 participants from all over the world are expected to attend, including government representatives, intergovernmental bodies, business community and non-governmental organizations specialized in wildlife conservation.

Among other issues, the Committee will hear about e-permitting systems to allow more efficient regulation of international trade in wildlife products. It will also discuss the causes and modalities of rhino poaching escalation in southern Africa, new partnerships for tigers, the volumes of mahogany harvested and exported from Central and South America, and initiatives to engage local communities in the conservation of saker falcons in Mongolia. Finally, it will consider a report on the use of the revenue generated by the one-off ivory sales conducted last year.

"Protecting species from the current pressures cannot occur without the use of cutting-edge technologies at our disposal", said Mr Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES. "The increasing use of electronic solutions in the regulation of wildlife trade and traceability of wildlife products marks the entry of CITES into a new era of proactive conservation," he added.

Rhino poaching in southern Africa

Poaching of rhinoceroses and illegal trade in their valuable horns for use in traditional medicine is one of the most serious criminal activity currently facing the Convention. It is also undermining at least 20 years of conservation efforts in southern Africa. Detected cases of rhinoceros horn smuggling from Africa to Asia reveal that criminal networks are using sophisticated techniques, corruption and abuse of diplomatic immunity to perpetrate their crimes. Poaching of these animals is highly dangerous and, this year alone, several poachers have been killed during exchanges of gunfire with wildlife and parks department patrols.

The Standing Committee decided last year on the establishment of a CITES Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force, consisting of law enforcement officials from a range of countries, together with representatives of Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. This year, the Committee will review the recommendations of the task force and consider new measures to protect these animals. Although rhinoceros populations saw an increase in numbers in the 1990s, the recent upsurge in poaching and illegal trade is a serious threat to their survival in some countries. It is estimated that over 200 rhinoceroses have been poached in southern Africa in the past year.

New partnerships for tigers

The Secretary-General of CITES, and his staff, have been cooperating closely with the World Bank and conservation bodies to develop an integral approach for tiger conservation. In a meeting earlier this year between Mr Wijnstekers and the Bank's President Mr Robert Zoellick, CITES was asked to elaborate an anti-poaching strategy that contributes to a long-term collective effort to conserve wild tigers.

Once numbering over 100,000 throughout Asia, tigers are now only found in small populations and their total numbers in the wild are thought to be no more than 4,000. There are many more tigers in captivity than in the wild. Despite decades of effort, and millions of dollars spent in preservation projects, tigers continue to move closer to extinction. Whilst loss of habitat and decreasing numbers of their prey animals have contributed to falling tiger populations, poaching and illegal trade remain significant threats. Their skins are sold for decorative purposes, or to be used in traditional clothing in some parts of the Far east, and their bones and other body parts are used in some traditional Asian medicines. Tigers are also killed because they attack humans and livestock.

Domestic trade in tiger parts and derivatives has been banned across the world since the late 1990s, but some experts are questioning whether this is the right approach. Since tigers can be bred very easily in captivity, the argument is made that they should be 'farmed' to supply a relatively inelastic demand. Others argue that such trade would facilitate the 'laundering' of tigers poached from the wild. Designing new conservation strategies for the tiger implies taking into account many diverse views and interests based upon biological, socio-economic and cultural factors.

Legal origin of tropical timber

The Committee will consider the volumes of trade and current verification systems for mahogany and other tropical timber species. Under the Convention, it is the obligation of the State of export to determine whether the wood to be exported was acquired in accordance with national and international laws. The validity of forestry laws, the role of trade promotion agreements and the use of innovative tracking systems to distinguish wood of illegal origin from wood that has been legally obtained are other elements to be considered.

Other issues

The Committee will consider a report on the use of the 15 million USD generated by the sale of 102 tons of stockpiled ivory at the end of last year. Southern African states are reporting that the income generated (3 times the annual budget of the Convention) will be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant ranges. The average price paid was USD 157 per kg, which contrasts sharply with the prices allegedly fetched on the illegal market over the past year (USD 1,800).

Additionally, the Committee will provide guidance on the interpretation of the criteria used to list marine and other species under CITES. This guidance will have a long-standing impact on the proposals that member countries can submit to adjust the rules governing wildlife trade. Countries will vote to accept, reject or modify proposals for amending the CITES rules at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to take place in 2010. Arrangements for the 2010 CITES Conference will be also discussed at the present meeting.

The meeting will finally consider the regional reports on the state of wildlife trade and implementation of CITES rules in Africa, Asia, Central, South America and the Caribbean, Europe, North America and Oceania and the results of a workshop on wildlife policy reviews organized for the 22 member States of the Arab League.

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