CITES’ Colonial Hangover Under Scrutiny

Emmanuel Koro Correspondent
Smaller wildlife species play an important role in ensuring the balance of nature. Without them, the bigger species such as rhinos, elephants, lions, giraffes and sharks would not survive. Neither would mankind.
Sadly, this basic fact is ignored by those who control the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Species (CITES).
At its just concluded 18th meeting of the parties to the Convention, substantial time was allocated to the iconic species than to smaller animals. Why? Could it be that international interest — and money — is easier to attract when talking about rhinos instead of geckos?
This selective treatment of species has drawn a strong protest from 15 environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The concerned NGOs argue that the preferential treatment given to iconic species was particularly blatant in the Geneva meeting and ought not to be repeated at any future official CITES gatherings.
“We stand together in protest at the deficit of time and discussion that was allotted for certain flora and fauna at the recent CITES meeting,” reads the protest letter addressed to CITES Secretary-General Ms Ivonne Higuero.
“It was alarmingly apparent that there were manifest discrepancies in which species were being appropriately deliberated, and which were not. The listing of a species in CITES is a substantial and impactful action that merits careful consideration, and the voices of stakeholder observers, regardless of their size or affluence, deserved to be heard.”
The protesting environmental NGOs include the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), International Wildlife Management Consortium World Conservation Trust (IWMC), Ivory Education Institute (IEI), the European Pet Organisation (EPO), Parrot Breeders of Southern Africa (PASA), Ornamental Fish International (OFI), Livelihood International, the Sustainable Use Coalition, the Fur Institute of Canada, Americas Fur Resources Council, the International Professional Hunters Association (IPHA), the Private Rhino Owners’ Association (PROA) and Deutche Gesellschaft fur Herpetologie und Terrarienkunde (DGHT).
“We do not advocate curtailing the comments from mega fauna NGOs, but rather equitably allocating time to those concerned with other species, as well,” said the environmental NGOs’ letter to the CITES secretary-general.
For the second straight tri-annual gathering of the parties to the Convention, proponent groups for charismatic mega fauna were provided significant time to argue for restricting trade in species of concern to them, while the chairpersons of the two responsible sub-committees limited debate and took no NGO comments on the proposed listing of less-charismatic species, including reptiles and species such as spiders and scorpions.
Getting through an agenda said to be 20 percent longer than in Johannesburg in 2016 was the rationale given by the chairpersons for ending discussions quickly.
“The inescapable impression is that the concerns of wealthy NGOs are important, while those of smaller NGOs are not,” reads the protest statement to the CITES Secretariat.
“Even more egregious (shocking) is that these incomplete deliberations meant that multiple decisions were made without consideration of the full data and facts, prioritising spin over science.”
The protesting NGOs have petitioned the CITES Secretariat to recognise the need to give equal consideration of the views of both small and big NGOs at future CITES meetings.
“We assert that the CoP should determine the length of the meeting based on the number of species to be considered, rather than fitting all listing proposals into a specified time period,” said the 15 protesting NGOs.
Alternatively, the CoP could decree that it will only consider a fixed number of proposals, to be selected from those submitted prior to a predetermined deadline.
This would cause parties to prioritise the species that they offer and ensure that the Secretariat receives comprehensive listing proposals in a timely manner.”
This unhappiness with the way the 18th meeting was conducted by the prevailing powers controlling CITES was mirrored in a powerful closingstatement to the plenary session from Godfrey Harris, managing director and official delegate of the Ivory Education Institute.
He noted that CoP18 “was a less productive meeting, despite what other delegates have said”. He pointed out that “the agenda was too long, the interventions of parties too numerous, the lack of [interactive] debate too obvious, and the committee chairs too [stingy] in seeking the views of observers” .  Harris continued: “Because of these reasons I have a question for the Western delegates here: What gives you the right to repeat the colonial mistakes of the 19th century? How dare you dictate to Africa or other former colonial areas how they should manage their natural resources? There seems little difference between the millions spent to corrupt African leaders and the arrogance that Bismarck (German iron Chancellor 1815-1898) and others [displayed toward] Africa.”
Harris noted that these colonialists brought their version of civilisation (Western) to their African subjects along with their favourite form of religion (Christianity) and their preferred form of economic development (government-protected capitalism). He warned that Western countries and animal rights NGOs are promoting a culture of corruption within CITES, “bribing the leadership of former colonies through board memberships, luxury travel, speaking honoraria, training scholarships and other gifts is wrong. “Using these mechanisms to push poor nations to accept Western attitudes and beliefs about how wildlife should be treated is as racist (in conception) as any white nationalist” might employ.
Elsewhere at CITES CoP18, Mr Harris told the European Union (EU) delegates that they should not make the mistake of thinking that banning the ivory trade would stop poaching. He cited the US prohibition of alcohol and drugs that failed because the bans were not accompanied by efforts to reduce demand. He said that the same would hold true for bans on ivory and rhino horn.  Harris argued that experience had shown that trade prohibitions create corruption, increase crime and often stimulate greater demand. He said “it is currently happening again” with illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory. “Evidence abounds that since the ban on ivory trade in 2007, elephant poaching and ivory seizures have increased significantly,” said Harris. “The closing of legal domestic ivory markets in the US and China have not had any noticeable effect on this trend.”

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