CoP18 — Geneva, Switzerland
Compiled by Emmanuel Koro, African environmental journalist who has extensively written on environment and development issues in Africa.
IN THIS ISSUE:
CITES reforms from elephants to mice.
CITES’ moment of madness as Israel asks it to ‘manage’ extinct woolly mammoths to save African elephants.
CITES ironically punishes Namibia and Eswatini for successful white rhino conservation.
• Yesterday CITES might have marked a significant moment in its 44-year history as the elephant preservation treaty. Now, it seems to have assumed another identity that might lead to it being associated more with mice than with elephants.
• This follows last week’s rejection of a downlisting of Zambia’s elephant population from Appendix I to the less restrictive Appendix II. In contrast, yesterday the delegates voted to downlist the Australian mouse, (fieldi praeconis), from Appendix I to Appendix II. Australia said that there was no evidence that trade is or may be a threat to the survival of this species. There is no suspected or demonstrable potential demand for the species. Future commercial trade is unlikely. The downlisting proposal was accepted.
• THE SOURCE COMMENT: CITES can now be known as a mouse instead of an elephant Convention. We await to see a new-look CITES logo that features mouse whiskers instead of an elephant tusk and trunk.
• Another moment of madness at CITES CoP18 yesterday occurred when the UN agency entertained Israel’s proposal to list the extinct Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), in Appendix II. Israel said it was to prevent trade in the long-extinct animal’s ivory. Mammoth tusks are surfacing in greater quantities now due to climate change in places such as Russia, Greenland, and Canada.
• As Israel continued to push CITES into uncharted waters, several delegations cautioned that the UN agency has no mandate to preside over extinct species.
• Former woolly mammoth “range” states such as Russia and Canada — both exporters of mammoth ivory, argued that CITES “has no mandate to discuss and act” on Israel’s proposals because its work is limited to regulating trade in species that are threatened. The woolly mammoth is extinct. Israel’s proposal was also opposed by the European Union, Japan, China, and the U.S.A. The latter argued that there was no evidence that woolly mammoth ivory was mistakenly identified as African elephant ivory.
• South Africa said that it didn’t support the proposal and dismissively asked a question of the CITES Secretariat that many thought would make Israel withdraw its proposal, “Do pre-Convention or extinct species qualify for a CITES listing.” That question plunged CITES officials into an uncomfortable mini-conference while clutching on what looked like rules of the Convention documents. Then came the CITES Secretariat answer that everyone was waiting for, “According to Annex 3 of Resolution 9.24, we consider that Israel’s proposal is beyond the scope and mandate of CITES.”
• THE SOURCE COMMENT: With such fierce opposition from some of the who is who of the world’s economic superpowers, the Committee chair sensed that Israel would lose a vote and intimated it should withdraw its resolution.
• Israel’s push for CITES to act beyond its mandate was like a doctor being told to bring a dead patient back to life instead of issuing a death certificate. What a waste of time for Israel to push CITES back 10,000 years when the woolly mammoth became extinct. But Israel explained that the purpose of this listing would be to stop the illegal trade in living elephants by preventing “laundering” or mislabeling of elephant ivory.
• Israel refused to withdraw its resolution. It said that it knew that CITES doesn’t have the mandate to manage extinct species but this “doesn’t rule out the need to list species to save existing species that can be threatened. It then opted to amend its proposal to just deal with woolly mammoth parts. This controversial and widely opposed proposal was postponed to another session before the end of CoP18.
• THE SOURCE COMMENTS: Another moment of madness awaits us.
• CITES’ member countries punished Namibia and Swaziland by voting against their separate proposals to down-list their white rhino populations from Appendix I to II. It was as if a schoolmaster had lashed Namibia as well as Eswatini (the students), then the two countries were indeed unfairly ‘lashed’ students who would have long abandoned the schoolmaster (CITES). Both Namibia and Eswatini lost their arguments to save their white rhino.
• THE SOURCE COMMENTS: The conservation commitment, achievements, and abilities of Namibia have been more than adequately demonstrated over the past 44 years. It successfully restored this species after it had become extinct in the late 19th century. The proposal was simply to down-list the white rhino from Appendix I to II, with no trade in rhino horn.