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CITES conference to strengthen wildlife trade rules for fisheries,
timber, exotic pets, elephants and more
Agenda features wildlife crime, rhinos, rosewood, eels, sharks, “big cats,” etc
Geneva, 7 August 2019 – The 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will adopt decisions and resolutions to expand and further strengthen the global wildlife trade regime at CITES’ triennial World Wildlife Conference at Palexpo in Geneva from 17 to 28 August.
Governments have submitted 56 new proposals to change the levels of protection that CITES provides for species of wild animals and plants that are in international trade. Many of these proposals seek to ensure that trade in at-risk species remains sustainable by requiring trade permits through a CITES Appendix II listing. Others recommend banning all commercial trade in specimens of species threatened by extinction by listing them on Appendix I. Still others aim to provide evidence that a population has stabilized or expanded and can be safely transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II.
“CITES sets the rules for international trade in wild fauna and flora. It is a powerful tool for ensuring sustainability and responding to the rapid loss of biodiversity – often called the sixth extinction crisis – by preventing and reversing declines in wildlife populations. This year’s conference will focus on strengthening existing rules and standards while extending the benefits of the CITES regime to additional plants and animals threatened by human activity,” said CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.
“Clear and enforceable rules based on sound science and effective policies are vital for protecting natural wealth and achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals that have been adopted by the world’s governments. Because it is science-based, implementation-oriented and pragmatic, CITES plays an essential role in advancing international efforts to conserve and sustainably use our natural capital," she said.
Last May, the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services confirmed that species and ecosystems around the world are in rapid decline. One of the main direct drivers of species decline is the direct overexploitation of living organisms (including unsustainable or illegal hunting, fishing and logging).
The new wildlife trade rules to be considered at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES (CoP18), cover an array of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, trees and other plants. Twenty listing proposals are inspired by concern over the growing appetite of the exotic pet trade for charismatic amphibians and reptiles. The trend towards applying CITES rules to trade in high-value fish and tree species continues, as do the debates over how best to manage the African elephant populations and what to do with the ivory produced by these animals. Illegal killing of rhinos and the related trade in rhino horn is also high on the agenda. Delegates will also decide whether musical instruments made of precious wood from trees regulated by the Convention should be exempted from CITES controls.
Governments will evaluate each listing proposal and decide to adopt it by consensus or, if necessary, by vote. In addition to analyzing the proposals themselves, they can consider the views of the organizations that were formally invited to provide their comments as stakeholders (see document here). The Secretariat itself is tasked with evaluating the proposals for whether they satisfy agreed trade and biological criteria, and reviewing technical and scientific factors (see details here).
Strengthening the regulatory regime for wildlife trade
In addition to the 56 proposals for amending the CITES Appendices, the CoP18 agenda also seeks to adopt a strategy for the coming years and improve the effectiveness of the Convention through agreements on the interpretation and implementation of its provisions. The CITES Strategic Vision Post-2020 document, for example, will be presented for discussion and adoption. The draft vision foresees that “By 2030, all international trade in wild fauna and flora is legal and sustainable, consistent with the long-term conservation of species, and thereby contributing to halting biodiversity loss.” It also highlights CITES’ role in contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The success of CITES is based in good part on having a solid legal basis and an effective compliance regime. When there is evidence that a Party may not be fully complying with their obligations under the Convention, CITES provides technical assistance and capacity building to bring the country back into compliance. If necessary, CITES can also adopt compliance measures which may include a recommendation to suspend all trade in a listed species or even in all CITES-listed species. Updates on these issues are contained in Doc. 27 and Doc. 28.
Illegal international trade in wildlife threatens the survival of many wild animals and plants while undermining national economies and the livelihoods of people who rely on the sustainable use of wildlife. The growing involvement of organized crime groups is increasing the complexity of enforcement investigations and the risks faced by enforcement officers such as park rangers.
Among other issues, the conference will address wildlife crime linked to the Internet, the use of forensic applications, corruption, a threat assessment report on wildlife crime in West and Central Africa (Doc. 34), and the storage and management of data on illegal trade used to inform decision-making. It will also focus on capacity building and technical support provided to Parties by the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization under the auspices of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).
Some Parties are of the view that trade in non-CITES-listed species should be examined to assess if CITES could play a role in managing such trade. CoP18 will discuss several documents that describe trade-related concerns for species and taxa currently not included in the CITES Appendices. These involve [non-CITES listed], songbirds, amphibians, marine ornamental fish, Bangai cardinal fish and frankincense. (Docs. , 74, 79and 94).The ongoing work under the Convention on rosewoods(Doc. 62), eels (Doc. 63) as well as sharks and rays (Docs. 68.1 and 68.2) touches both on listed and non-listed species.
Many “wild” animal and plant species listed under CITES are now bred in captivity or cultivated for the purposes of trade, but such trade must not be detrimental to the survival of a species in the wild. The conference will therefore consider the broad issue of trade in animal and plant specimens from non-wild sources (Docs. 56, 57, 58and 59).
In addition to tackling these ongoing challenges, CITES Parties have generated many success stories. These often involve enabling rural communities to develop income or increase food security through the sustainable use and conservation of wild animals and plants. Examples of such stories can be found on the CITES website in brief articles about the vicuña, the Nile crocodile, the snowdrop flower and other species.
The conference will also consider opportunities to enhance the role of indigenous, local and/or rural communities in CITES decision-making processes and how to further strengthen collaboration with other biodiversity-related conventions.
Species-specific issues and proposals for amending Appendices I and II
Pangolins are unique among mammals in having large, protective scales made of keratin (the substance that forms horns and nails) covering their skin. Overhunted for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, all eight species were transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I at CoP17 three years ago. The conference will explore a range of measures to strengthen conservation of these endangered animals (Doc. 75).
The markhor (Proposal no. 1) of Central Asia is a relative of wild goats and ibexes. Tajikstan proposes transferring the species from Appendix I, where it has been listed since 1975, to Appendix II, arguing that populations have started to recover.
The vicuña (Prop. 3and Prop. 4) lives in the Puna and Andean highlands, where it is highly valued for its fine fibres used in knitware. Argentina proposes the transfer of the population of the Province of Salta from Appendix I to Appendix II. Chile proposes a technical amendment to the listing of its vicuña populations to update the names of the referenced regions. For more on the conservation of the vicuña and trade in its fibre and products, see Doc. 91.
The small clawed otter (Prop. 6) lives in wetlands stretching from India through Southeast Asia. India, Nepal and the Philippines propose transferring it from Appendix II to Appendix I, citing the high risk of extinction due to the international pet trade (as well as the loss and degradation of its habitat). Bangladesh, India and Nepal also note the high risk of extinction in arguing for transferring the smooth-coated otter (Prop. 7) from Appendix II to I.
Bitter aloe (Prop. 55) is a popular medicinal plant that was earlier listed in Appendix II to prevent overexploitation. South Africa proposes amending the listing to exempt seeds as well as finished products from artificially propagated plants, arguing that this would enhance local livelihoods and simplify permitting and enforcement.
Australia proposes transferring the greater stick-nest rat (Prop. 14), the Shark Bay mouse (Prop. 15), the false swamp rat (Prop. 16) and the central rock rat (Prop. 17) from Appendix I to Appendix II. It argues that these rodents are not threatened by trade but rather by introduced predators, fire and habitat loss.
Reeve’s pheasant (Prop. 18) is valued for its decorative tail feathers (up to 2.4m long) and its eggs. To reduce smuggling and incentives for poaching, China proposes placing the species on Appendix II.
The black-crowned crane (Prop. 19) lives in the wetlands and grasslands of the Sahel and the Sudan savannah regions. Concerned that trade and habitat loss have led to declining wild populations, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal propose uplisting the species from Appendix II to Appendix I.
Because the lesser rufous bristlebird (Prop. 20) is considered extinct, Australia proposes downlisting it to Appendix II (keeping it subject to CITES in case it is rediscovered). Australia proposes a similar downlisting for the long-billed bristlebird (Prop. 21) because there it is no evidence that it is traded.
The American crocodile (Prop. 22) was included on Appendix I in 1975 in response to over a century of overexploitation for the animal’s skin. Mexico now proposes transferring its national population to Appendix II to reflect progress in ensuring the crocodile’s conservation and sustainable use.
The Mindoro peacock swallowtail butterfly (Prop. 47) is found only on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. It is popular with collectors, naturalists and researchers because it closely resembles, and can be mistaken for, the highly prized and CITES-listed Luzon butterfly. Responding to this concern, the EU and the Philippines propose an Appendix I listing. Brazil’s riverside swallowtail butterfly (Prop. 48), although primarily threatened by habitat loss, is also vulnerable to illegal trade. Specimens have been observed for sale on popular websites. Brazil therefore proposes an Appendix I listing.
Africa and Asia’s large charismatic mammals
The big cats of Africa and Asia are under threat from a wide range of pressures, including poaching and illegal trade. The CoP will consider establishing a CITES Big Cats Task Force to strengthen action on conserving these high-profile species (Doc. 71.1 and Doc. 71.2) in Asia. The conference also has agenda items on Africa’s cheetahs (Doc. 60) and lions (Doc. 76.1 and Doc. 76.2) and Latin America’s jaguars (Doc. 77.1and Doc. 77.2).
Populations of the giraffe (Prop. 5) have declined significantly over the past several decades due to habitat loss and other pressures. The Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal propose that the giraffe be listed on Appendix II as a precautionary measure to help arrest the species’ ongoing decline.
The white rhinoceros (Prop. 8 and Prop. 9) has been heavily poached for its horn for many years. Although the population of southern white rhinos in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) is listed on Appendix II, an annotation currently prevents international trade in rhino horn. Eswatini proposes removing this annotation so that it can sell an existing stock of 330 kg of rhino horn and then 20 kg per year from non-lethal harvesting. Namibia proposes transferring its population of Ceratotherium simum simum from Appendix I to II with an annotation solely for the sale of live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations and for hunting trophies, with all other specimens to remain on Appendix I. For more on CITES’ work on the challenges facing rhinos in both Africa and Asia, see Doc. 83.1and Doc. 83.2.
CoP18 will once again consider a number of elephant proposals. The African elephant (Prop. 10, Prop. 11and Prop. 12) was moved from CITES Appendix II to CITES Appendix I in 1989 after decades of ivory poaching had greatly reduced many populations. In 1997 and 2000, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, CITES agreed to downlist the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Appendix II. In 1999 and again in 2008, sales of registered stocks of government-owned ivory from these countries were authorized to China and Japan.
Now, Zambia proposes to downlist its elephant population from Appendix I to Appendix II to permit sales of registered ivory stocks to CITES-approved buyers as well as some specified non-ivory trade. Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe would like to enable trade in registered ivory stocks to Secretariat-verified partners as well as some specified non-ivory trade. They propose to do this by amending an annotation that, although their elephant populations are listed in Appendix II, currently disallows trade.
A group of 10 countries takes a very different tack by proposing that the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe be moved from Appendix II to Appendix I. These countries are Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Togo.
To provide objective assessments of trends in elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory, CITES established the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). Their results inform the decisions taken by Parties on elephant conservation and the ivory trade. For more about MIKE, ETIS and other ongoing work by CITES on elephants and ivory, see Docs. 69.1, 69.2, 69.3, 69.4and 69.5.
Finally on the ivory issue, and in a first for CITES, Proposal 13 calls for listing a long- extinct species. Israel proposes adding the woolly mammoth to Appendix II, citing the so-called “look-alike provision” aimed at preventing the “laundering” or mislabeling of elephant ivory as mammoth ivory.
Efforts to conserve Great Apes are also on the CoP agenda (Doc. 73).
The trade in exotic pets
The unregulated international pet trade is increasingly seen as a threat to colorful and exotic lizards, geckos, iguanas, snakes, turtles, tortoises, frogs, newts and spiders. Most are also vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change, and some are also exploited for food or medicine. The booming trade in these small and easy-to-smuggle species is driven in part by social media and e-commerce. CITES has already listed many birds, mammals and other species that are poached for the pet trade, but a large number of reptiles and amphibians are not CITES-listed, and trade in these species is not regulated.
- The garden lizard (Prop. 23), horned lizard (Prop. 24, pygmy lizard (Prop. 25) and hump-nosed lizard (Prop. 26) are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are threatened by deforestation and poaching. Concerned by evidence of smuggling for the international exotic pet trade, Sri Lanka proposes placing these
- The 13 species of leopard gecko (Prop. 27) (also known as tiger or cave geckos) live in micro-habitats and are not well studied; China, the EU and Viet Nam propose listing the Chinese and Vietnamese populations in Appendix II. The Tokay gecko (Prop. 28) is a large, the EU, India, the Philippines and the USA propose adding this gecko to Appendix II. The Grenadine clawed gecko (Prop. 29) is limited to a small area of mature dry forest in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which proposes adding this species to Appendix I. Because Grandidier’s Madagascar ground gecko (Prop. 30) is rare, and its population continues to decline, Madagascar and the EU propose adding it to Appendix II.
- The 18 species of spiny-tailed iguanas (Prop. 31) are distributed throughout eight countries, from Mexico to Colombia. El Salvador and Mexico state that these iguanas are threatened by habitat loss and over-harvesting and should be included in Appendix II.
- The spider-tailed horned viper (Prop. 32) is limited to a few localities in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. This “bird eating” snake uses its tail, mimicking a spider, to attract small birds, convincing them that they have found a suitable prey, but trapping them with its venomous fangs. Iran proposes listing it in Appendix II.
- The Bourret’s box turtle (Prop. 33) is a medium-sized terrestrial turtle of the hill forests of central Viet Nam experiencing steeply declining populations. The Vietnamese box turtle (Prop. 34) is a rare terrestrial turtle restricted to forests on the eastern slopes of the Langbian Plateau of southern Viet Nam. The Annam leaf turtle (Prop. 35) is a freshwater turtle living in the floodplain wetlands of three central provinces. Viet Nam proposes transferring all of these species from Appendix II to Appendix I.
- The star tortoise (Prop. 36) boasts a unique and striking shell pattern that appeals to the pet trade; Bangladesh, India, Senegal and Sri Lanka propose transferring it from Appendix II to Appendix I. The pancake tortoise (Prop. 37) lives in fragmented populations among the small rocky hills in the dry savannah of parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia; Kenya and the USA propose transferring it from Appendix II to Appendix I. For more on CITES-listed tortoises and freshwater turtles, see Doc. 88.
- Glass frogs (Prop. 38) are distributed from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and feature transparent abdominal skin through which their internal organs are visible. Cost Rica, El Salvador and Honduras propose listing 104 species of glass frog in Appendix II. For more on the conservation of amphibians, see Doc. 62.
- Spiny newts (Prop. 39) are endemic to low hills in coastal areas and subalpine regions in eastern and southeastern mainland China; China proposes adding them to Appendix II. Asian warty newts (Prop. 40) are endemic to China and Viet Nam; China and the EU propose adding 13 species to Appendix II. Crocodile newts (Prop. 41) are distributed throughout China and parts of South and Southeast Asia; China and the EU propose an Appendix II listing.
- Ornamental spiders (Prop. 46) are popular due to their colorization and large size. Sri Lanka and the USA propose an Appendix II listing for a number of ornamental and arboreal tarantulas that are endemic to India and/or Sri Lanka.
- In recent years, CITES has listed a growing number of fish species that are vulnerable to overfishing and are already experiencing declining populations. The conference will discuss the status of work on sharks and rays (Docs. 68.1 and 68.2), sturgeon and paddlefish (Doc. 61), humphead wrasse (Doc. 67), eels (Doc. 63), seahorses (Doc. 72) and other marine species.
- Three new fish proposals for CoP18 focus on managing the international trade in shark products through Appendix II listings. A diverse group of 27 countries (plus the EU) propose listing mako sharks (Prop. 42), which are large, fast-swimming, migratory sharks that swim mostly in semi-temperate zones.
- A diverse group of 25 countries (plus the EU) propose listing blackchin and sharpnose guitarfishes (Prop. 43). A diverse group of 34 countries (plus the EU) propose that CITES manage trade in two species of wedgefishes (Prop. 44), which have experienced rapid population declines , where data is available.
- Teatfish(Prop. 45), a type of sea cucumber, are widely fished and poached in the Indo-Pacific seas due to their high commercial value and ease of capture. Concerned about the species’ vulnerability, importance for ecosystems and shrinking stocks in some areas, the EU, Kenya, Senegal, Seychelles and the USA proposed adding it to Appendix II.
- The Mulanje cedar (Prop. 50) is the national tree of Malawi. Because its yellow-white timber is highly resistant to fungal rot, insects and decay, it is highly valued. It has been overexploited by illegal loggers. Malawi proposes an Appendix II listing.
- The proposal on North Indian rosewood (Prop. 51) is the only one at CoP18 recommending that a species be deleted from the CITES appendices. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal propose removing this tree, which is used for timber and many other purposes, from Appendix II because it is abundant and sustainably harvested. For more on rosewood, see Doc. 30.1, Doc. 30.2 and Doc. 74.
- Two timber species proposals, one by Canada and the EU for rosewood, palisanders and bubingas (Prop. 52), and one by Côte d’Ivoire and the EU for Afromosia (Prop. 53), call for technical clarifications to existing listings. Canada and the EU propose to clarify, in particular, that trade in rosewoods, palisanders and bubingas for the purpose of producing “finished musical instruments, finished musical instrument parts and finished musical instrument accessories” are not covered by the Appendix II listing for these tree species. South Africa proposes amendments to the current listing in Appendix II of Aloe to the effect that finished products containing this plant would be excluded from CITES controls (Prop. 55). Switzerland proposes to amend the current Appendix-II listing of Grandidier’s baobab (Prop. 56) by deleting a special reference to the regulation of ‘live plants’ of this species, arguing that this is superfluous because live specimens of all Appendix II-listed plants are regulated under CITES.
- The African padauk or mukala (Prop. 54) is a rosewood species distributed across eastern and southern Africa. Malawi proposes listing it in Appendix II out of concern that legal and illegal harvesting of the species for logs and sawn timber has led to overexploitation. Several range states have already imposed harvesting or trade bans.
- Cedars (Prop. 57) provide high-quality and economically-valuable timber. Overharvesting, particularly of the best trees, is reducing populations as well as genetic diversity. Although some cedar species are particularly valuable, Ecuador proposes listing all cedar species in Appendix II because it can be difficult to distinguish among them.
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With 183 Parties, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) remains one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of trade. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, health care, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, to ensure their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable. CITES was signed in Washington D.C. on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 July 1975.
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