CITES - Now A Bane Not A Boon

Ron Thomson

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Jun 27, 2009
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CITES - Now A Bane Not A Boon

The two-week-long biennial Conference of the Parties (CoP 14) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has now come and gone. One of the results of the conference was that, after another once-off sale of stockpiled elephant ivory, there is to be a nine-year moratorium on international commercial ivory sales. This has left the states of southern Africa in despair.

Eugene Lapointe, President of the IWMC World Conservation Trust and former Secretary General of CITES, said of this decision: ”This is a complete disaster for elephants. Illegal traders now have at least nine years when they can monopolise the ivory market. This is nothing short of a Poachers’ Charter and it means that elephants will be killed indiscriminately.”

The CITES ‘tail’ is, once again, wagging the ‘wildlife management’ dog. CITES has again shown that it is a serious impediment to proper and responsible wildlife management in Africa.

I am not surprised. For the last 20 years I have been warning the countries of Africa that they should be looking at what is happening “inside” CITES - how it functions.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) came into being in 1948. Its purpose was to oversee man’s sustainable use of renewable natural resources both domesticated and wild.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was created in 1961. Its purpose was to raise funds to safeguard endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems.

CITES was born in 1975. Its purpose was to REGULATE the international trade in endangered and vulnerable species of fauna and flora.

In 1980 the IUCN published its mission statement – The World Conservation Strategy (WCS). The three objectives of what the WCS calls “living resource conservation” are (briefly):

1. To maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems;
2. To preserve genetic diversity; and
3. To ensure the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems. (Notably fish and other wildlife, forests and grazing lands) which support millions of rural communities as well as major industries.

The WCS was revised in 1991 – and reworded – but its principles did not change. It was also renamed: “Caring for the Earth – A Strategy for Sustainable Living”.

The IUCN, WWF, CITES and the WCS represent the four cornerstones of the foundation on which the modern international wildlife management edifice has been constructed. Their objectives are sound. The problems with which these stanchions are now faced lies in the manner of their evolution since inception.

CITES - in an attempt to encourage the participation of as many well-meaning organisations as possible - has allowed NGOs of every wildlife persuasion to be accredited to the organisation. Accredited NGOs are allowed to participate fully in every facet of CITES but they do not command a vote.

Votes are allotted only to the member sovereign states of the convention – one vote to each member. These state members are called ‘parties’ or ‘signatories’ to the convention.

CITES has, approximately, 160 sovereign states members. At every conference-of-the-parties, however, there are infinitely more NGO delegates present than there are signatories. Many (most?) of them are animal rightists.

Important debates last for days. In 1989 – when the African elephant was first declared to be an ‘endangered species’ at CITES – the debate lasted nine whole days and the greater part of the nine nights, too. The animal rights NGOs were active everywhere. They wined-and-dined delegates from all over the world to lobby for their voting-support on the elephant issue. In the end, despite a strong plea against the vote from the IUCN, the conference voted in favour of placing the African elephant on the CITES Appendix I list. This, effectively, declared the African elephant to be an ‘endangered species’ – which it never has been. It also introduced the international ivory trade ban.

To achieve this objective the delegates broke the rules of CITES which the then Secretary General, Eugene Lapointe, warned them against. As a consequence of this warning a press, that had been primed by the animal rights NGOs at CITES, crucified Lapointe for “exceeding his authority”. The animal rights NGOs called for Lapointe’s sacking. Shortly after that he WAS sacked – but he had done nothing wrong. Such is the power of the animal rights NGOs at CITES!

I interviewed two African CITES delegates in 1989. They both told me they had planned not come to CITES that year. They had, however, been approached by an animal rights organisation that offered to pay their airfares, their hotel accommodations, their food and bar bills, their telephone bills - everything - just so long as they came to CITES and voted in the manner that the NGO prescribed. One delegate, with a twinkle in his eye, told me they had even paid for his “ladies of the night” bill. They both attended CITES that year and spent a free two-week long holiday in a foreign country. They both voted as was required of them.

The United States government – in the mid-1980s – investigated similar and equally serious corruption allegations at CITES. Nothing, however, could be proved. Many delegates had spoken about such shenanigans but none were, apparently, prepared to give a statement.

What is an animal rightist? How do you recognise such people?

The easiest way to identify an animal rightist is to ask him if he supports the third objective of the WCS. If he says “NO”, he is an animal rightist.

Animal rightists believe that animals should have the same rights as humans. At CoP 14 they openly lamented that fact that “since more than 90% of people eat meat or wear products derived from animals, it should be clear that animals have NOT been granted equal rights with people”. They believe that man has NO RIGHT to ‘use’ an animal, ANY animal, for his own benefit.

Why should animal rightists want to be associated with CITES - the purpose of which is to REGULATE TRADE in wild animals and in wild animal products. The answer is very clear. They get involved in order to STOP the trade.

CITES is corrupt. It has been corrupted by its own accreditation rules that allows the participation of NGOs whose purpose in life is to STOP man’s ‘use’ of wild animals – including trade. CITES is now, unequivocally, the most important weapon in the animal rights arsenal.

There are other issues. The convention does not consider the different pressures that are exerted on a species’ different POPULATIONS – populations that should, EACH, be managed according to their respective circumstances. No one at CITES seems to understand that you CANNOT manage a species at the species level!

Most CITES decisions are, today, animal rights orientated and emotion-based. They do not consider the wildlife management desideratum to create and to maintain a dynamic state of balance between the soil, the plants and the animals within a country’s national parks - the ONLY way to secure the safety of a national park’s bio-diversity.

Plants cannot exist if there is no soil. Animals cannot exist unless there are plants. Plants also provide cover for the soil – protecting it from erosion by sun, wind and (especially) rain. There is a clear hierarchy of importance, therefore, between the soil, the plants and the animals in a national park. The security of the soil MUST be our first management priority. Plants MUST be our second management priority. Animals come last. This does not make animals UN-important. It just places them in the correct priority position in the wildlife management equation.

Too many elephants in a game reserve means they eat up the vegetation at an unsustainable rate. Habitats are drastically changed as a consequence. This leads to plant and animal extinctions. The vegetation cover of the soil is reduced which exposes more and more soil to erosion. Soil is lost, therefore, in ever-greater quantities. And, if excessive elephant populations are not brought back into ‘balance’ with their habitats, they will turn Africa’s national parks into deserts.

Botswana is currently 2 300 percent overstocked with elephants. Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is 1 200 percent overstocked. Zimbabwe as a whole is 400 percent overstocked. Kruger National Park is 300 percent overstocked. And the elephant sanctuaries of Namibia have, variously, too many elephants, also.

Reducing these elephant populations, and maintaining them at sustainable levels, will take an awful lot of money. The sale of the ivory and of elephant hide - byproducts from these population reduction and culling operations – is the best way to finance them. CITES has now denied this possibility. On a continent where human poverty is escalating, and where every penny is turned over to advance development, this imposition is nothing less than criminal.

Wildlife in south-central Africa is considered to be a wild-product-of-the-land. It is used as a tourist attraction. It generates huge incomes for game ranchers and safari outfitters who serve both local and international hunters. It is harvested for its products. Venison is sold openly and abundantly everywhere. Game biltong is available from every corner café. Commercial use of the wildlife resource is a major part of the wildlife cultures of ALL the states of southern Africa – where it works ‘for’ wildlife more than any other land management option. In South Africa the combined size of the country’s commercial game ranches equates to eight times the size of the giant Kruger National Park. All this happens because land- owners can make a better living out of managing and harvesting wild animals than they can by practicing any kind of conventional agriculture.

By contrast America’s wildlife culture is ‘anti-market-hunting’. Hunting is allowed in the United States but no indigenous wild animal, or their products, may be sold for personal gain. There is a huge dichotomy, therefore, between these two wildlife cultures. This emphasises the point that no one country, or group of countries, can possibly advise others ‘how’ they can and/or ‘should’ manage their own wildlife. But this is what is happening via CITES decisions all the time. It is happening, negatively for Africa, as a consequence of the dominating influence of the accredited animal rights NGOs whose birthplace is North America.

Delegates at CITES have shown that they are open to bribery. What difference does it make to a South American delegate, for example, whether he votes to approve or to disapprove an international ban on the commercial sale of elephant ivory? What difference does it make to an African delegate whether the Eskimoes of arctic Canada and Alaska are allowed, or denied, the right to harvest walrus? As a consequence, such delegates’ voting preferences are often easily directed when incentives are offered.

There is an inherent flaw in the CITES procedures, therefore, insofar as people who have NO INTEREST in, and NO KNOWLEDGE about, particular animals in a strange (to them) country, have the power to approve or to disapprove the commercial harvest of those animals and their related trade. And they have absolutely NO accountability for their decisions! It is nice to presume that the official delegates at CITES are all honest brokers. The truth is, some are and some are not. This is NOT - AND SHOULD NOT BE - good enough for a country that uses its wild animal resource as a commercial product-of-the-land. The ‘sustainable use’ of their natural resources is, after all, the way that nations survive.

The commercial use of a country’s wildlife resource is recommended by the IUCN’s WCS - PROVIDED the harvest is sustainable. Why then should CITES put blocks on that sustainable utilisation process. The answer is it should not!

If Africa is to emerge from its post-colonial evolution intact, something is going to have to give. If Africa is to create a commonwealth of like-minded-nations that are honest and progressive - that have thriving economies, that have flourishing tourism industries, that have SAFE wild animal populations in their national parks, and with their respective heritages of rich biological diversities secure - it CANNOT allow what is happening at CITES to continue. The dominating influence of the animal rights NGO lobby at CITES cannot be allowed to destroy the continent’s wildlife potentials.

Africa can lobby to change the CITES NGO accreditation rules so as to be able to purge CITES of its undesirable animal rights elements. To achieve this just one third of the official delegates will have to so vote.

Accredited NG0’s should be required to endorse their support for the WCS. The IUCN made this a requirement of IUCN membership applications in 1986. Why cannot CITES not do the same thing now? If this cannot be achieved Africa should remove itself from CITES. Just the threat of this happening, however, SHOULD be enough get everybody to “see the light”.

Enough is enough!

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