Hunters prevail on African lion listing
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa––The final score in the last contentious rounds at the 12-day CITES CoP 17 meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa might be posted as “Jaws 13, Cecil 0,” with a series of landmark decisions for sharks but nothing good done for African lions.
Concluding on October 5, 2016, CITES CoP 17 was the 12-day 17th triennial Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Brokered by the United Nations in 1973, the 183-nation CITES treaty is the first line of defense for animals and plants in transborder commerce.
Everyone claims victory but Swazliland
Overall, whether hunters, conservationists, game farmers, governments, or wildlife won at the CITES CoP 17 meeting appears to vary by perspective. Almost all participants claimed victory, except for Swaziland, a small landlocked nation surrounded entirely by South Africa.
Swaziland unsuccessfully sought CITES authorization to sell more than 700 pounds of stockpiled rhino horn seized from poachers and rhinos dead from natural causes. Swaziland also unsuccessfully sought permission to collect and sell 44 pounds of rhino horn per year. This would have come chiefly from rhino farmers. The proposals were both resoundingly defeated.
While CITES has no direct law enforcement authority, when a CITES Conference of the Parties adds a species to a list called Appendix II, it confers global recognition that the species is threatened. A CITES Appendix I listing amounts to international recognition that the species is endangered.
CITES member nations pledge to observe the CITES species status designations, and to individually enforce whatever laws they have on trafficking threatened and endangered species to either bring the trade under control or to a halt, depending on whether a species is listed on Appendix II or Appendix I. (See also What “CITES CoP 17” means to animals in plain English.)
Ivory, parrots, pangolins
The first week of CITES CoP 17 saw passage of a resolution asking member nations to halt domestic trade in ivory, 27 years after international trade in ivory was ended except for one-time specially authorized sales in 1999 and 2008; the addition of African grey parrots and all six pangolin species worldwide to Appendix I; and reinforcement of the existing Appendix I listing for helmeted hornbills.
“Though the call for closure of domestic ivory markets is not a binding resolution,” assessed Mike Gaworecki of the online nature magazine Mongabay, “its passage by consensus in Johannesburg was seen as a strong signal from the CITES Parties — including China, the largest ivory market in the world — that the ivory trade’s days are numbered.”
CITES CoP 17 participants also rejected proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe to resume selling elephant ivory.
“Oh the sharks, babe…”
CITES CoP 17 participants during the second week of the meeting added all nine species of devil ray, all three species of thresher shark, and silky sharks to Appendix II.
CITES Conferences of the Parties have historically balked at protecting sharks, but the movement to protect devil rays, thresher sharks, and silky sharks, “along with protections for five other sharks [approved] at the previous CITES summit in 2013, suggest the tide is turning for sharks,” wrote Gaworecki.
CITES CoP 16, held in Thailand, approved Appendix II listings for hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, and all species of manta rays.”
“About 100 million sharks are killed every year, driven by a $1 billion annual trade, and only a fraction have had any protection,” summarized Gaworecki. “Many are now among the most threatened creatures on the planet. But the new action by CITES has doubled to 20% the proportion of sharks targeted by the fin trade,” meaning the demand for shark fin soup, coming mostly from China, “that are now regulated.”
Even snakes protected––but not lions
The second week of CITES CoP 17 also added protections for 56 reptile species believed to be jeopardized by the international exotic pet and meat trades, including six softshell turtle species.
“Tortoises and freshwater turtles are the most threatened of any major group of terrestrial vertebrates – more so than mammals, birds or amphibians,” explained U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokesperson Laury Parramore.
But despite the global wave of concern for African lions generated by the 2015 “Cecil” poaching case in Zimbabwe, CITES CoP 17 participants defeated a request from Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo that African lions be uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I.
Fewer than 20,000 African lions are believed to remain in the wild.
The CITES uplisting, had it been approved, might have ended the lion trophy hunting industry, which thrives in South Africa and Zimbabwe through the use of captive-bred lions. Typically the lions are released into enclosures featuring semi-wild habitat only a few days before the arrival of clients who have pre-paid for guided hunts.
Safari Club International
Boasted Safari Club International, “Lions will remain on Appendix II with a new provision that regulates commercial trade in lion bone,” sometimes trafficked to China and other Asian nations where it is often sold as alleged tiger bone.
“Trade in lion hunting trophies, including skulls and bones, will not be affected in any way,” the Safari Club International web site said. “In addition, CITES adopted a formal position on hunting trophies. Hunting of some species ‘should produce conservation benefits’ before trade is allowed, and CITES member nations should “consider the contribution of hunting to species conservation and socio-economic benefits, and its role in providing incentives for people to conserve wildlife.”