Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Minor victories for tigers, elephants and rhinos at CITES meeting


tigerThe member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at their meeting in Doha, Qatar, this week passed resolutions to aid tigers, elephants and rhinos, three of the species most victimized by the illegal wildlife trade.

Although none of the resolutions provide any new protections, they certainly can't hurt.

For tigers the CITES member nations unanimously agreed to improve law enforcement, increase regional cooperation between the countries where tigers still live, improve population and crime data reporting, and create a tiger trade database that could be analyzed to develop anti-poaching strategies. How any of that would be achieved wasn't made clear.

CITES banned international trade in tigers back in 1975. A resolution on the table to further limit domestic trade (within the borders of an individual country) was on the agenda for this week's meeting, but did not pass. Existing provisions against tiger farms, like those found in China, were not weakened.

In advance of the meeting, CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers released a statement saying that current efforts to protect tigers have "failed miserably" since CITES first banned international trade in tiger parts. During that time, populations have plunged, tiger habitat has shrunk 93 percent, and tens of millions of dollars have been spent, to little avail.

Elephant poaching also appears unfazed by existing CITES regulations, and has recently risen back to levels equaling the rate when the international ban on ivory trade passed in 1989.

Even with the ivory trade ban, CITES has in the past agreed to several one-off sales of ivory stockpiles, which can accumulate through natural deaths of elephants, herd culling or seizure of materials from poachers. At its 2007 meeting CITES agreed to a nine-year moratorium on future one-off sales, but Tanzania and Zambia both came to the Doha meeting this month wanting to sell some of their stockpiled ivory: 90 tons from Tanzania and another 21 tons from Zambia. Tanzania's bid was voted down on Monday, then Zambia withdrew its proposal. Tanzania had said the sale, which could have netted $20 million, would allow the country to spend more money on elephant conservation, but wildlife groups have long argued that any legal sale of ivory helps to create a smoke screen to mask black market dealing.

Speaking of ivory, that brings us to rhinos, which are also currently facing a major uptake in poaching. CITES on Monday agreed to focus on a number of efforts to protect rhinos, including increased law enforcement (in particular, against organized crime syndicates), better training for anti-poaching rangers, stronger border controls between nations, and creating awareness campaigns in nations like Vietnam, where many rhino horns end their long post-poaching journey. The decision was based on recommendations from a report by TRAFFIC International, the wildlife trade monitoring network, which had pointed out a "decline in law enforcement effectiveness."

Stay tuned for more news from CITES.

Image: Tiger by Jeroen van de Sande, via Stock.xchng

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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