Ecocide: Does CITES offer any hope?
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Ecocide: Does CITES offer any hope?

On Sunday the Sixteenth Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, commonly referred to as CITES, began in Bangkok, Thailand. Meetings will run through March 14 and focus on issues including overfishing, illegal logging and wildlife crime, with timber, sharks and rays topping the agenda.

From an official CITES press release:

The 70 proposals submitted by 55 countries from across the world seek to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine species (including several shark species) and timber species (including over 100 rosewoods and ebonies from Madagascar), the vicuña population of Ecuador, polar bears, African elephants, white rhinos, freshwater turtles, frogs, crocodiles, ornamental and medicinal plants and many other species.

First signed in 1973 at a meeting of 80 countries in Washington, DC, CITES now counts 178 countries among its membership, the latest signatory being Lebanon.

Besides the plight of sharks and manta rays, which I discussed yesterday, significant attention is being paid to rhinoceros and elephants. It is notable that in Thailand, the convention’s host country, it is legal to sell ivory harvested from Thai elephants. Many believe that criminals use this as a cover for selling ivory from African elephants, thereby fuelling poaching in Africa.Others believe that banning trade outright encourages poaching, specifically in the case of rhinos.

Read more about the main issues at this year’s CITES in this BBC News report.

As with shark fins and manta ray gill plates, much of the focus is on China, where a massive populatio has a large appetite for endangered species and can create more extinction from sheer size and demand. 50% of the world’s demand for ivory comes from China. In terms of rhino horn, China is still a big destination, though more than double the amount of rhino horn that reaches China is smuggled into Vietnam.

What stops ecocide is not so simple. Neither is what causes it. The factors are manifold. First, controls need to be put in place, which means countries must multilaterally agree on regulations or (in the best case) outright bans. Then they must enforce these bans. However, even efforts to enforce laws at the source, such as protecting parks in which endangered wildlife live, are problematic, especially when native habitats are being destroyed, as in the case of Indonesia’s orangutans, or criminals using high tech equipment to poach rhinos in Africa.

A big emphasis needs to be placed on educating people so that demand decreases in destination countries. CITES can help with this, but individual governments need to step up and make sure that their citizens know the suffering and damage that is caused by shark fin soup, bear and tiger farms, rhino and elephant poaching and deforestation of endangered tropical hardwoods. They also need to know the practical worthlessness of the expensive traditional remedies they shell out for. No one will pay high prices for medicines if they don’t believe they work, and far fewer people (I believe) would buy ivory if they realized how much the elephants suffer.

CITES may not be the answer, but in terms of international governmental cooperation, there’s not all that much else at the moment.


Deforestation in Kelantan State, West Malaysia, pic: Wakx (Flickr CC)