CITES Secretary-General's welcoming remarks at the Workshop on illegal trade in cheetahs

Workshop on illegal trade in cheetahs

3 – 5 November 2015

Kuwait

Welcoming remarks by John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary General

 

His Excellency Sheikh/ Abdullah Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah - Director of the Environmental Public Authority of the State of Kuwait & Chairman of the Board

Distinguished guests, friends and colleagues

We are most grateful to the Environmental Public Authority of the State of Kuwait for hosting and financing this week’s workshop on illegal trade in cheetahs.

We also extend our thanks to the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for co-funding this event, as well as to the members of the Cheetah Working Group, which is mandated by the CITES Standing Committee to convene this workshop in coordination with the CITES Secretariat. 

We are delighted to lend our strong support to this important event, which is dedicated to the cheetah, the fastest running land animal in the world.

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CITES is the preeminent global legal instrument for regulating international trade in wildlife, including cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), which has been included in Appendix I since the entering into force of CITES in 1975.

The troubling reality is that the wild cheetah population is declining. The most recent population estimate is fewer than 10,000 animals, mostly in the savannahs of Eastern and Southern Africa, with a very small Asiatic population in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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The 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Bangkok in 2013 was alerted by a number of countries from the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa of the illegal trade in cheetahs, and adopted several specific Decisions in response.

The first comprehensive overview of the global legal and illegal trade in cheetahs and its consequences for the conservation of the species, was presented to the Animals Committee and the Standing Committee in 2014.

This overview shows that cheetahs face a variety of pressures to their existence in the wild, including habitat loss, bush-meat hunting of their prey base, conflict with livestock owners, and illegal trade.

Eastern Africa is the region with the highest recorded levels of illegal trade in live cheetahs, and this is where illegal trade is likely to generate the most significant negative impact on wild populations. Information suggests that the Middle East, and notably the Gulf States, is the primary destination of illegally traded live cheetahs coming from East Africa, and that they transit via the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

Based on the known outcomes of confiscations made in Somalia and Ethiopia, there seems to be  a high mortality rate of up to 70% amongst the animals that are illegally traded.

There has also been legal trade in hunting trophies from Namibia and Zimbabwe under an Appendix I quota system since 1992. The study presented to the Animals and Standing Committees in 2014 found that such trade appears to operate in a satisfactory manner. And in South Africa, limited captive breeding of cheetahs for commercial trade takes place under the control of its national CITES authorities.

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Colleagues, the many and varied challenges you will address over the coming days deal with issues such as:

  • how to reduce the illegal offer of, and demand for illegal cheetah specimens;
  • how to combat illegal trade in cheetahs and improve international cooperation right along the trade chain in source, transit and destination countries, principally from Eastern Africa to the Gulf States; and
  • how to handle confiscated live cheetahs to prevent mortality and enhance positive conservation outcomes.

The participants gathered in Kuwait today come from across cheetah range States and other key countries affected by the illegal trade in cheetahs. Together with the participating experts, from both within and outside of government, we have a group of highly qualified people assembled in one place for three days to help us arrive at solutions to these challenges, and I do hope you make best use of this unique opportunity.

I would have loved to join you for this meeting, and enjoy the warm and generous hospitality of our host government, Kuwait, but it has not been possible. We are however very well represented by our good colleagues, Tom De Meulenaer, the Chief  of Scientific Services and Pia Jonsson, the CITES Enforcement Support Officer.

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Let me close by again expressing our deep gratitude to the Government of Kuwait, and all participating CITES Parties, NGOs and experts, for giving the level of attention to cheetahs that they deserve.  

We all eagerly await your conclusions and recommendations that will be discussed at the upcoming 66th meeting of the Standing Committee in Geneva, in January 2016.

If we get law enforcement right for the cheetah, we will not only save the wild cheetah but help save countless other species together with their habitats.

Thank you.