Pangolins, chambered nautiluses, African gray parrots, and several other species recently covered here in “Extinction Countdown” will all benefit from new protections enacted at the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which concluded this week in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The protections will either ban or strictly limit cross-border sales of these species among CITES’ 180-plus signatory nations.
Perhaps the most important decision at the CITES conference was that to protect all eight species of pangolins, which have been called the most heavily trafficked animals on the planet. All eight species have now been added to CITES Appendix I, which bans all trade. Several species were previously listed on CITES Appendix II, which allows limited regulated trade, but all pangolins species look fairly similar to each other, so this has been hard to enforce. Pangolins are valued for their scales and meat, which are eaten as delicacies and used in traditional medicine, and poaching has all-but-eliminated the animals from much of their ranges in Asia and Africa. More than one million pangolins have been poached over the past decade for this illegal trade.
“This decision gives real hope that extinction of pangolins may be prevented,” Mark Hofberg, assistant campaigns officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said in a prepared release. “The rate at which they are being killed is completely unsustainable and cruel. If nothing was done, we could see these amazing creatures disappear within a generation.”
Similarly, the African gray parrot, which has increasingly become a victim of the exotic pet trade, has been added to CITES Appendix I. This should limit international sales, although the birds remain heavily bred in captivity. African gray parrots have practically disappeared from some of the nations where they were once common.
“Increased CITES protections come not a minute too soon for African grey parrots,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a prepared release. “During the past 25 years, more than 1.5 million wild African greys have been taken from their native habitats, making them one of the most traded of all CITES-listed parrots.”
Sticking with that part of the world, six softshell turtle species from Africa and the Middle East also received Appendix II protection, as did 21 species of African pygmy chameleons.
Marine species also received lesser, but important protections. The chambered nautilus—victim of intense overharvesting for their beautiful shells—has been added to CITES Appendix II, which means all trade will now take place under a permit system, allowing the industry to be monitored for sustainability.
Also added to Appendix II were nine species of devil rays, three species of thresher sharks and the silky shark, all of which face unsustainable levels of demand for their meat, fins and gill plates. Populations for these species have fallen by 70 percent or more due to intense levels of previously unregulated trade. CITES, it should be noted, now protects more rays than sharks, and indication of how much still needs to be done to protect marine species.
Some of the biggest buzz leading up to the CITES conference were proposals to reopen the legal trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory. Advocates of legal trade said it would create funding for further conservation efforts. Opponents said it would just further fuel the poaching crises affecting both groups of species. CITES member nations rejected the proposal to legalize the rhino horn trade, while also agreeing to keep ivory markets officially closed. However, the body failed to provide added protections for African elephants by adding the animals from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to Appendix I. The elephants from those four nations are currently listed on Appendix II. Critics were especially vocal about the elephant decision, saying it will do nothing to stem the bloody losses affecting the species.
African lions, which have lost nearly half of their population over the past few decades, also failed to gain additional protections at CITES as the parties did not agree to move the big cats to Appendix I. Instead, CITES has required South Africa to set up export quotas in lion bones and other body parts, which will be strictly monitored.
Outside of wildlife, numerous plant species also gained protections. Three U.S. cactus species were added to Appendix I, which hundreds of species of rosewood, barwood and bubingas—all of which are valued in for use in buildings, furniture or decorative pieces—were listed on CITES Appendix II, which should help to slow down their unsustainable exploitation.
The CITES meeting concluded today. The next meeting will be held in three years.