Wrap-Up Report On CITES CoP18

As the 18th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) enters the history books, a review of the meeting shows that the global wildlife trade conference hosted by Switzerland ended well for hunters despite some setbacks, the most obvious being the unnecessary listing of the giraffe on Appendix II.

The joint team from SCI and the SCI Foundation just spent two weeks in Geneva to assure that despite domination by a protectionist agenda, officials from 182 countries continue to see sustainable use of wildlife as important to conservation.  Unfortunately, politics and emotion trumped science and the giraffe was listed on Appendix II even though there is no data to support the claim that giraffe populations are negatively impacted by international trade.  The consequence for hunters is that once this listing goes into effect in 90 days, any import of a giraffe trophy requires an export permit from the country where it was hunted.  Although obtaining an export permit should not be too onerous for hunters, SCI and SCIF opposed the listing because it is not based on science. Giraffe populations in southern Africa with regulated hunting programs continue to increase.

All CITES member countries are affected by the decisions made at the Conference of the Parties.  However, it is perhaps the southern African countries who can make a legitimate claim to being most economically and socially affected by recent CoP rulings.  As a result of the further restrictions adopted by the CoP18, several southern African delegations are frustrated, to put it mildly.  These countries that are successfully conserving the largest wildlife populations, thanks in large part to a sustainable use model, have given serious indications that they are considering pulling out of the global treaty that regulates wildlife trade.

More than 2,000 people, both official delegates and non-governmental observers (NGOs) attended the conference that ended last week.  These delegates and NGOs watched as wildlife-rich countries like South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania were out-voted time and again.  The African delegations pleaded with the other delegates to allow them to use their wildlife resources in order to make the money needed to conserve those resources, but they were repeatedly turned down.

A perfect example of the continued ‘beat down’ was when the country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) was told “no” when they asked to be allowed to sell rhino horn taken sustainably from live animals to pay for the high cost of protecting the rhinos from poaching.  Some of the southern African countries, and others, decried decisions related to elephants, rhinos, and giraffes as racist or modern-day colonialism!

A delegate from Tanzania put it this way: “Today CITES discards proven, working conservation models in favor of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models.”  That is the sad truth.  The western NGOs are great at saying “no” but never have a viable solution to fund programs to save wildlife.  It is the worst kind of hypocrisy!

In spite of the temporary set-backs, there is some good news to come out of the two-week conference.

Leopard quotas are secure for years to come.  SCI and SCIF’s team at the CoP18 helped secure a decision that leaves the current trophy export quotas in place for leopards.  (Two countries that don’t currently allow leopard hunting, Kenya and Malawi, requested their quotas be removed, but the rest remain as they are.)  Those quotas will be reviewed over a 9-year cycle despite some efforts to terminate the quotas pending further review.

African lions in eastern and southern Africa will remain on CITES Appendix II, where they belong, and without additional trade restrictions.  For years now the team from SCI and SCIF have worked to keep trade restrictions on lions minimal.  Although the animal rights, anti-hunting NGOs and delegations have been attempting to move lions to Appendix I or otherwise increase restrictions, the CoP18 maintained the status quo established several years ago.  Moving the lion from Appendix II to Appendix I is similar to listing them as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  It would make it nearly impossible to import a trophy from a legally-hunted lion, even though hunting is one of the few things standing between the lions and extinction.

In more good news, South Africa’s proposal to change its export quota for black rhino hunting trophies from 5 per year to 0.5% of the total population per year was adopted. Currently, 0.5% of the population equals 9 or 10 rhinos.  As the population increases, so too will the export quota.

It is not just hunters that understand the critical place that sustainable use occupies in the conservation of wildlife.  Neutral expert groups of scientists such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature agree that trophy hunting can be an important factor in conservation.  Thankfully, the thousands of delegates to the CITES meeting in Geneva that just ended continue to agree.  Your team of scientists and international law experts from SCI and the SCI Foundation made sure that good sense prevailed.