To prevent them becoming extinct in the wild, conservationists urge countries to give imperilled species the highest level of protection at the global Cites summit.
Conservationists say that from iconic species such as elephants and lions to lesser known, but equally troubled, creatures such as devil rays and the psychedelic rock gecko, a global wildlife summit that started on Saturday is a “do or die” moment for endangered animals around the world.
The summit in Johannesburg is aimed to ensure the legal trade in food, skins, pets and traditional remedies does not threaten the survival of species and brings together 181 nations to crack down on wildlife trafficking, currently a $20bn-a-year criminal enterprise. Proposals to toughen or loosen trade bans and regulations for over 500 species would be voted on by the member nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
While more protection for sharks, parrots and frogs are also on the table, a total trade ban is being sought for pangolins, an exotic scaled creature, which is now the world’s most trafficked mammal. While a proposal from 29 African countries aims to make protections for elephants to get even tougher, some southern African nations want to overturn the ban on selling ivory and this is the most controversial proposals meant for elephants.
“With so many of our wild animal and plant species facing serious threats from rapacious poaching and commercial trade, this Cites meeting represents a ‘do or die’ moment. Either countries do the right thing and give these imperilled species the highest level of protection possible against unsustainable exploitation, or we risk seeing them die out altogether in the wild,” said Teresa Telecky, wildlife director of the Humane Society International.
While national political agendas loom large, the proposals are based on scientific evidence.
“The stakes are high for so many species and we must make certain that sound science and the precautionary principle are deciding factors and not short-term political or economic interests,” said Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Others are concerned that work on enforcement to end the scourge of poaching would be distracted due to the high-profile rows over the elephant proposals, which could all fail to pass. Wiping out almost a third of their population, over 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014. On an average of every 15 minutes one elephant is killed.
Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Nigeria could face sanctions on all their wildlife-related trade as nations where poaching, trafficking or illegal sales take place should have submitted action plans but these countries have not.
“We are concerned that the summit is likely to be a rerun of the old pattern, with proposals and counter-proposals on legal international ivory trade diverting attention from the real issues,” said WWF in statement. There is likelihood of fierce opposition to proposals to legalize the sale of horn from rhino, whose populations have plummeted, by Swaziland who made the proposal.
(Adapted from The Guardian)