CITES 2013: will the paper tiger roar?CITES 2013: zal de papieren tijger brullen?

20 March 2013

CoP16, the 16th conference of the parties to CITES (3-14 March, Bangkok, Thailand) has ended with a remarkable lack of agreement among conservationists about the value of its outcomes.

Key results
Protection was upgraded for more than 50 species, with sharks and timber the notable winners.
• A great success without a doubt was the listing in appendix II for five shark species (Oceanic Whitetip, three species of hammerhead and Porbeagle sharks) and manta rays, which are under severe pressure from overfishing for their fins. This means a permit system will be introduced to regulate international commercial trade.
• Appendix II listing was also secured for dozens of commercially exploited tropical hardwoods, including ebonies from Madagascar Diospyros spp., Brazilian Rosewood Aniba rosaeodora, Thailand Rosewood Dalbergia cochinchinensis and further Dalbergia species from Central America and Madagascar.

The highly contentious proposal by the US for uplisting of Polar bears to Appendix II, backed by Russia and strongly opposed by Canada, did not receive the required 2/3 majority of votes.

The outcomes for elephants, rhinos and tigers received very mixed reviews, with some conservation groups saying good progress was made, while others decried shame on parties’ failure to agree on measures to effectively halt the soaring illegal trade in these species.
• For rhinos, Mozambique and Vietnam, two of the countries at the centre of the rhino poaching crisis were instructed by CITES to demonstrate what action they have taken to address the situation. Moreover, Vietnam will have to implement strategies to reduce the demand for rhino horn.
• For Tigers, countries agreed on measures to gather information on incidents of poaching and illegal trade in all Asian big cats and to analyse the information for circulation to relevant enforcement agencies and range States.
• For elephants, a number of measures were agreed to improve control of ivory, including requirements for the compulsory reporting of all ivory stockpiles held by governments on an annual basis, for forensic analysis of all ivory seizures of more than 500 kg to determine their country of origin, and for countries to report on measures taken to prevent illegal trade in live captive elephants. In addition, eight countries implicated as having significant involvement in the global illegal ivory trade – China and Thailand as end-use markets, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam as transit countries, and Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as source and exit points in Africa – were instructed to develop action plans to address the illegal flow of ivory along the trade chain.

The challenge of translating words into action
Now that the dust has settled the real challenge for CITES will be to ensure the decisions and resolutions are translated into action.

This challenge is more urgent than ever, with the poaching of African elephants and rhinos still in the upward curve of exponential growth and enforcement agencies in Africa and Asia nowhere near successful in breaking apart the crime syndicates responsible for the poaching crisis. The kingpins of these syndicates continue to grow rich off their illicit trades and enjoy impunity, profiting from weak judicial systems and ambiguous laws and policies.

These crime syndicates are unbothered by CITES’ decisions and resolutions, which is painfully clear from the following reports:
• As parties were convening in Bangkok, poachers killed 28 elephants in Cameroon (
• A day after the convention ended, 2 major seizures of hundreds of tortoises (including critically endangered Ploughshare tortoises) were made in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (
• Last weekend, days after the talks were concluded, 86 elephants were slaughtered in Chad (

To unravel the wildlife crime syndicates in Africa and Asia and put their kingpins out of business for good, the world will need to swiftly and radically change its game, using unorthodox and innovative methods through a multisectoral, multidisciplinary approach, and remembering Einstein’s famous quote: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.

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