The 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) met this month to discuss strengthening enforcement in wildlife trade. The countries discussed and reviewed 160 documents and proposals for commercially exploited aquatic species, exotic pets, tropical timber and species including sharks, elephants and big cats, among others.
Defenders of Wildlife attended the CITES conference, monitoring the votes and rulemaking on imperiled species that are highly trafficked such as totoaba, jaguars and sharks and rays as well as species of amphibians, reptiles and cedars from Latin America. Several proposals that focus on these Latin American species were supported by Defenders and were passed at the convention, marking significant victories for biodiversity on the global scale.
Alejandra Goyenechea, senior international counsel at Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased at the commitment for stronger protections of Latin American species in this year’s CITES convention. The victories won at CITES COP 18 are a huge step in the right direction, and a major move toward curtailing wildlife trade that is currently running rampant in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Defenders of Wildlife is encouraged by the stand taken by the global community to protect these species, and we look forward to further progress at the next meeting.”
Juan Carlos Cantu Guzman, Director of Mexico Programs for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“It is encouraging to see the difference international cooperation makes in wildlife conservation. Species like the spiny-tailed iguanas, jaguars and cedars will live another day because of the country’s commitments adopted at this convention. Defenders of Wildlife celebrates these wins for imperiled Mako sharks, guitarfishes and wedgefishes and will continue to push for strong protections for glass frogs and vaquita, who continue to be imperiled from international wildlife trade.”
The following decisions were made at CITES COP 18:
• Decisions on the conservation of amphibians that Defenders supported and advocated for was approved by consensus.
• Decisions on the conservation of jaguars that Defenders supported and advocated for was approved by consensus.
• The mako sharks, wedgefishes and guitarfishes were listed under Appendix II. This proposal was supported by Defenders of Wildlife
• The Black-crowned crane population found in Mexico was listed under Appendix I. This proposal, supported by Defenders of Wildlife, was adopted by consensus.
• The entire genus (18 species) of spiny-tailed iguanas was listed under Appendix II. This proposal, supported by Defenders of Wildlife, was adopted by consensus.
• 17 species of cedar found in the Neotropics were listed under Appendix II. This proposal was supported by Defenders of Wildlife and was adopted by consensus.
• The Indian start tortoise was moved from Appendix II to Appendix I listing, banning all international trade for the species. Defenders of Wildlife supported this proposal.
• A proposal brought by the Mexican delegation to register a totoaba breeding facility ended in a tie in votes. Defenders of Wildlife and other NGOs spoke, along with the USA and other delegations, against the proposal, which would have been a setback in vaquita conservation. Because the vote ended in a tie, the proposal will await next year’s meeting.
• A glass frogs proposal was not adopted by the Parties but received overwhelming support from Latin America, and various others, but not by the European Union, which is a consumer region.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a legally binding international agreement between 183 states (referred to as “parties”). The agreement seeks to conserve our planet’s animals and plants by ensuring they are traded in a manner that is legal, traceable and sustainable for their survival. The primary method CITES does this is through designating vulnerable, threatened or endangered species to Appendices I, II or III, providing varying levels of regulations on the trade of those species. CITES currently regulates the trade of 36,000 species of wildlife. Once a species is added to Appendix I, the highest designation of protections, trade for commercial purposes is banned. Appendix II allows for the legal trade regulated by CITES through a permitting system.
Defenders of Wildlife and International Species
Defenders of Wildlife works to mitigate illegal wildlife trade (IWT), focusing on seizures of wildlife parts and products by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) through ports of entry. To better understand wildlife trafficking from Latin America (Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America) to the United States, Defenders of Wildlife reviewed 10 years of data on seizures of wildlife and wildlife parts and products from the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) Trade Database managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
In the 10-year period reviewed (April 2007 through May 2017), FWS seized a total of 10,082 wildlife shipments, and 2011 was the year with the most seizures (1,380). The seized shipments included 10,966 live animals and over 70,000 pounds of wildlife products. Most of this trade (87 percent) was sourced from wild populations and declared imported for personal use. The top U.S. ports for wildlife seizures were El Paso, Texas, and Miami, Florida, accounting for 56 percent of all shipments seized. Mexico was the top exporter with a total of 5,776 seized shipments—57 percent of all exports—originating there. This illegal trade is yet another threat to the wildlife of Latin America, the most biologically diverse region in the world. The neotropical index, a measure of the state of the region’s biodiversity, shows a dramatic 83 percent decline in wildlife populations since 1970.