The United Nations-backed treaty regulating trade in endangered animals and plants celebrated its 30th birthday today, voicing pride in past successes but warning of the “severe challenge” ahead in competing more effectively for the necessary funding as it fights to protect various species from extinction at the hands of organized crime.
Thanks to the effective implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), new emergency listings of species have become increasingly rare and none of those listed by the treaty has ever become extinct as a result of trade.
But the illegal wildlife trade has expanded and increasingly involved organized criminal networks, Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the treaty administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), warned.
“During the past three decades, CITES has proved highly effective in ensuring that human needs remain compatible with wildlife conservation. It has enabled local communities to benefit from the sustainable use of wildlife, and it has protected animal and plant species that are threatened or endangered by international trade,” he said.
But to build on these successes it needs to be more effective in competing for resources and attention as the arrival on the scene of new environmental conventions and organizations leads to greater competition for the available pot of money.
“Governments want and expect more from CITES, and they recognize its competence and its value,” Mr. Wijnstekers said. “Unfortunately, they are not always prepared to support it with the financial resources needed at either the national or international levels. As a result, CITES faces a severe challenge in boosting national capacities for conserving wildlife and managing sustainable trade.”
The average forest guard or game warden is not equipped to deal with organized crime, which needs a sophisticated response, while in most parts of the world, national police forces have sufficient training but other priorities besides wildlife trade, he noted.
Listing past “crises transformed into success stories,” he cited the South American vicuña and the Nile crocodile, two species whose survival was assured when CITES transformed their wool and skins, respectively, into valuable and sustainably managed commodities of benefit to local communities.
“Looking a bit further ahead, there is the potential for many of CITES’ efforts to be overtaken by other threats to species, such as climate change and higher levels of pollution and habitat destruction,” Mr. Wijnstekers said. “Apart from pests and domesticated species, few species are experiencing rapidly growing numbers. Unless the principles of sustainable development become more central to national policy-making, CITES’ influence could decline over the next 30 years as wildlife is overwhelmed by larger forces.
“This does not have to happen. The history of CITES confirms that it is possible to reconcile the needs of human beings and wildlife. I am confident that CITES will build on its past to make a significant contribution to the 21st century,” he concluded.