CITES Doha March 2010: And the winner is………….?

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    CITES Doha March 2010: And the winner is………….?
    by Rolf D. Baldus

    The fifteenth Conference (CoP) of the Parties to the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) came to a close on March 25th. If the delegates of the Doha CoP would have awarded an “Oscar” the Hollywood-like slogan might have sounded: “AND THE WINNER IS …..: THE NGO-ANTI USE COALITION!”

    Trade-, conservation- and ecological footprints

    Delegations from 144 of the 175 member states and 140 NGOs have been participating in the 15th CoP in Doha. It might be interesting to note in this context that the average Qatari is by far the biggest greenhouse gas producer worldwide; the well-organized global conservation meeting and the huge number of delegates in their air-conditioned luxury left behind not only a wildlife trade and conservation footprint, but also a huge ecological footprint.

    68 agenda items and 42 proposals to list species were debated; among the proposals 14 came from Madagascar alone. The most prominent and controversial discussions centered on blue fin tuna, sharks, polar bears, corals and elephants. For these “flagship species” neither uplisting nor downlisting was approved.

    CoP 15 has demonstrated again that it is extremely difficult to win the necessary two third majorities of votes. CITES operates with the “one country-one vote principle”, which means that China has the same voting weight as Vanuvatu. States with large, well managed populations of e. g. polar bear or elephant have no more say than those who ran their wildlife into the ground for a variety of reasons. Uplisting is normally easier than downlisting, because the public and even delegations follow the chimera that uplisting is always good for nature and that downlisting is a defeat for conservation. Years of propaganda by the anti-use NGOs and most media provide for good harvesting time during the CITES conferences. It is, very unfortunately for the species concerned, totally irrelevant in this context whether a certain species in a certain area has long since ceased to match the listing criteria and actually passed to a more secure status due to successful conservation measures.

    For Africa (and the world for that matter), as always, the elephant was in the centre of debates and decisions. Tanzania and Zambia had tabled downlisting and a one-off ivory sale. The counterproposal of Kenya and the Kenyan and the anti-use lobby sponsored Elephant Coalition was a moratorium of 20 years without any downlisting.

    Ivory is better protected than elephants

    Tanzania and Zambia could prove that their elephant populations do not fulfill the Annex I-criteria any more. Their respective statements were supported by the CITES panel of experts report. Consequently the debate centered on two other issues: (1) the effectiveness of elephant management in these countries and whether enforcement controls are in place and (2) the frenzied worry by some that a sale or even a mere downlisting would trigger a surge in poaching in all range states of the African elephant. According to the TRAFFIC-experts such a correlation is not supported by the statistics since the ivory trade ban in 1989.

    While Zambia achieved at least a simple majority for its modified proposal, Tanzania’s proposal was defeated by equal votes for and against. Tanzania simply had not done its homework. Poaching in the Selous Game Reserve, the country’s principal elephant area, has increased again, mainly as result of a 75% drop in finance and a resulting breakdown of management. After a very successful German-aided support programme came to an end in 2005, the authorities withdrew the so-called “retention scheme”, by which the Selous was allowed to retain half of its income. This income was mainly derived from safari hunting, but photographic tourism has recently greatly caught up. The Tanzanian authorities then transferred experienced staff and even failed to pay the game scouts regularly. Selous’ finance was reduced from nearly 3 million US% to around 0.8, law enforcement efforts dropped, poaching of elephants increased. As a consequence lodge owners are complaining that elephants are now being killed within earshot of international tourists. Tanzania’s elephant population had increased in recent years and is in the upper elephant carrying capacity set in the country’s "Elephant Management Plan". Downlisting with a zero trade quota would have been a fair solution, since it would at least have facilitated or allowed the country to export hunting trophies to the USA. However, the homemade problems gave rise to enough concern that even some sustainable use supporters did not to back Tanzania’s proposal. The outcome is probably to the detriment of the elephants in Tanzania. A positive vote with binding obligations for Tanzania to improve elephant conservation again, as the CIC had proposed, would have been a better option for elephants and rural livelihoods in the country.

    The anti-use lobby …

    To me the most baffling aspect of the elephant debate was the power and the human and financial resources of the animal welfare lobbyists, cleverly used again to influence the delegates in their deliberations. The so called “African Elephant Coalition” has been organized and backed by the “Species Survival Network”, a conglomerate of NGOs, most of them with more or less radical views on animal rights and welfare. Their immense financial power, fuelled by donations of well-meaning animal lovers, was put to good use in funding numerous invitations to African CITES authorities and conference delegates for the meetings of this coalition. The coalition provided office space in the Doha Sheraton for daily coalition meetings, for interpretation services and other goodies.

    23 members make up the coalition, a large portion of the member countries have only few elephants left. The Status Report on the African Elephant of 2007 provides ample statistical background material on the ever-decreasing elephant numbers in the coalition countries. Only Kenya still has around 30 000 elephants, but even this number is less than one third of the Tanzanian population alone. Significantly the coalition members Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Congo, Ghana und Sierra Leone have been explicitly named in the ETIS report (ETIS: Elephant Trade Information System) to CITES as being totally inefficient in the enforcement of their wildlife laws on ivory and elephants: there are no seizures of elephant ivory inside the respective countries, but plenty abroad. These countries are exemplary non-performers in elephant conservation! TRAFFIC suspects that in Mali, the appointed speaker of the coalition, ivory seizures nevertheless took place, but were deliberately not reported to TRAFFIC. Why? It seems that the seized tusks are sold illegally by the law enforcement agencies. Experienced elephant experts consider the vociferous engagement of Mali and some other countries in the elephant coalition therefore as being a mere cover up for their own shady activities. Strange bedfellows for alleged animal lovers! This may be construed as just another confirmation that not everybody in the elephant coalition does particularly have the conservation of elephants at heart, but draws on the elephant debate to further the common ideological objective of a total ban on the sustainable use of wildlife. Some may have some more sinister reasons! Alas, combined with the clever marketing strategies and the almost unlimited media resources of the non-governmental anti-use groups, this strange alliance serves the purpose to generate millions of US$ and Euros in donations, the lifeblood of the animal rightist movement. Where does all this money go to?

    The SADC-countries, ill prepared as they arrive in Doha, were completely outdone by the coalition propaganda and eloquence. In the past the SADC members presented a solid common position on sustainable use; at CoP 15 their stance and performance were at best mediocre. South Africa, usually a leading figure appeared strangely uninterested, Zimbabwe has lost its credibility, Tanzania and Zambia presented their positions emphatically, but clumsy. They were no counterweight to the combined force of the elephant coalition.

    … is the winner

    The African elephant coalition states and the NGOs supporting them can be rightly proud of preventing the two elephant proposals to go through; at least in as much as the successful outcomes of their orchestrated campaigns are concerned. These groups obviously do not consider that these very outcomes might harm the elephants in Zambia and Tanzania and blame the miserable failure of their own anti-poaching and law enforcement “efforts” on strictly controlled ivory sales like those done by the southern African countries last year. That the success of community conservation areas is threatened by the removal of tangible and intangible incentives for the local people, that there is now less money for incentive driven conservation does not concern the coalition states and their global animal rights allies in the least. There is ample media proof of their gloating in their perceived victory – elephants and people are their least concern, it seems!

    Unity is strength

    The leading international hunting organizations were also represented in Doha: CIC, FACE and Conservation Force threw their old battle horses into the fray, and SCI attended even with a delegation of ten people. They had done good preparatory work at home and at Brussels in the months leading up to the CoP. CIC had produced an excellent brochure “CITES – Facts and Science” which went to all delegates. The new definition of “hunting trophies”, which now includes crafted items from parts of the animal hunted legally, sailed through, quite to the dislike of some parties and certain NGOs. Credit for this victory is mainly due to SCI and FACE. The uplisting of the polar bear was prevented. Trade and hunting pose no danger to these bears, irrespective of climate change; quite the opposite is true. As is so often the case, sustainable polar bear hunting supports the livelihood of the Inuit, maintains their cultural heritage and reinforces their commitment to conserve the wildlife.

    Pro-use networking was not in vain, but had at best limited success. The hunting organizations must consider more promising strategies and stronger strategic cooperation in the years between the CoPs. Personal animosities and institutional competition has to be laid aside! What counts is a worldwide political advocacy for sustainable hunting.

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