Compiled by Aditi Rajan
Not to be assumed as a win for conservation, but as a ‘nudge’ to bring focus to threatened species, the 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP18) was held in Geneva (Switzerland) between 17th & 28th August 2019. Originally scheduled to take place in Colombo between 23rd May to 3rd June 2019, the convention was rescheduled to Geneva citing security concerns following the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings.
India has been a signatory to the convention since 1976 and during this year’s meeting was party to proposals requesting to amend the listing of 5 species from Appendices I and II. With a large focus on providing reptiles and amphibians with increased protection, over a third of the proposals received for consideration at the convention were of species threatened by the booming trend in illegal pet trade.
The Indian Star Tortoise was upgraded to CITES Appendix I which affords the species the highest level of international protection from commercial trade. Appendix I involves species that are threatened with extinction, and trade is allowed only in exceptional circumstances.
Traded for their fur and as live pets, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter (Amblonyx cinerea) and the Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) are both threatened species, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Previously listed in Appendix II, the conference voted to ban international trade of the species’, up listing them to Appendix I of the Convention.
Wedgefishes (Rhinidae spp.) which are in high demand for their fins and meat, were included in Appendix II granting an increase in regulation of trade such that it is limited to sustainable levels. While two species within the family Rhinidae, Rhynchobatus australiae and Rhynchobatus djiddensis, are known to form a significant component of a specific trade category in the shark fin retail market, difficulties in distinguishing between those and other members of the family led to all species of family Rhinidae being included in Appendix II, a decision supported by 34 countries in addition to India.
The shortfin and longfin Mako sharks, found in Indian waters, as well as six species of giant guitarfish were also included in Appendix II. Shark parts and derivatives such as fins and meat are rampant in illegal trade. Moreover, oil is extracted from the shortfin mako for vitamins, the skin is dried and processed as leather, and bones from the jaws and teeth as used as ornaments. The trade in marine species such as these has remained unregulated and unreported. Inclusion in the CITES Appendices will therefore prove especially beneficial in driving conservation efforts.
Three species of the sub genus Holothuria, commonly known as Sea Cucumbers were included in Appendix II, two of these Holothuria (Microthele) fuscogilva and Holothuria (Microthele) nobilis are found in the India Ocean. Difficulty in distinguishing commonly trades species kept sea cucumbers from being added to the CITES Appendices in the past with only one species (Isostichopus fuscus) being listed in Appendix III. These unique creatures most often found in their processed form after they have been dried and packaged in ornate boxes are sought after as luxury food items and face an increasing threat due to overfishing. This inclusion therefore brings hope to curbing the current exploitation and implementation of regulated trade.
This was the first time a consideration to include the Tokay Gecko in the Appendices was proposed at a CITES convention. Putting it in Appendix II it was decided by the CITES Secretariat that not only would regulate trade of the species but also help spur research to learn more about its current population as well as the degree and nature of trade.
Finally, the only unsuccessful proposal India was party to was the delisting of North Indian rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo) which remains to be listed in Appendix II. Reasons cited for opposing the delisting were due to difficulty in identifying closely resembling plant species that are also being traded as wood products.
In other global updates, the summit also saw a resounding rejection of Botswana's proposal to sell stockpiled ivory, whereas another interesting proposal suggested listing an extinct species, the Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) in Appendix II. This application was later withdrawn to be reconsidered at the next CoP ,with additional research being needed on the effect mammoth ivory trade has on international ivory markets.
Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) were included in Appendix II, as their fragmented populations have seen a drastic decline in the last few decades and could potentially be threatened, if trade is left unmonitored. While this new measure does not ban international trade, it will bring on stricter regulations and aid in providing an insight into the extent of global trade. Additionally the Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica), a critically endangered species was granted the highest level of global protection when it was transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I. Threatened not only from over hunting for their horns, which only the male of the species bears, their populations are also facing a “reproductive collapse” due to some herds being left largely with only females. The antelopes also faced a huge decline in 2017, when a virulent disease wiped almost two thirds of the global population.
An excerpt from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Guide to The Management of Confiscated, Live Organisms by Neil Maddison
Another important outcome resulting from a side event of the summit was an updated guide on the management of confiscated animals published by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). The first version was adopted in February 2000 and aimed to aid national and international governments manage and take actions upon seized live animals and plants. There has been a drastic increase in illegal wildlife trade over the past two decades, and national legislation and international agreements relating to it are dynamic and ever evolving. This document therefore will not only aid enforcement authorities in implementing the best management approaches but also guide them on ensuring individual welfare of seized wildlife.
At the conclusion of the summit, the next Conference of the Parties was announced to be held in Costa Rica in 2022.