Posted on 20th August 2019 by Media Relations
The 18th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is being held in Geneva, Switzerland, this week, and Taronga CEO, Cameron Kerr and Director Welfare, Conservation and Science, Nick Boyle, are attending as advisors to the Australian Government delegation at the meeting.
Here is everything you need to know about CITES, and why it’s so important.
What is CITES?
CITES was established in 1975 in response to growing concern around the survival of species impacted by trade and today it has 183 countries as part of its membership. The Conference of the Parties (CoP) of CITES meet every two years to regulate the global trade of over 6000 animal and 30,000 plant species, ensuring sustainability and biodiversity of the global eco-system.
The trade limits are set based on the best available conservation science to ensure that it does not negatively impact populations in the wild. The experts that advise CITES are drawn from places like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as well as the convention’s member countries.
What is illegal wildlife trade?
If you have heard about the illegal wildlife trade, it has probably been in reference to the impact on iconic animals such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.
However, the issue goes much deeper.
Sadly, there are many animals such as pangolins, sharks, turtles, snakes, lizards, insects, fish and parrots that are being caught from the wild and traded illegally. They are sold for use in medicine, culinary delicacies, clothes and jewellery and kept as exotic pets. Often, this illegal trade is done by criminal networks and sits alongside things like illegal weapons and drug trade.
Australian plants and animals aren’t immune to these criminal networks.
Last year 219 native lizards, snakes and turtles were seized by police in Western Australia (bound for sale in South Australia). This year, 169 native animals were seized by police in NSW that were destined for the overseas market.
The international illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth US$23 billion a year.
CITES helps reduce the illegal trade of plants and animals through a science-based licensing system. While it has its challenges ensuring countries comply with agreed treaties, it still provides a framework for member countries to build robust national laws to help regulate the import and export of plants and animals and protect and conserve critical habitats.
The focus of this year’s CITES CoP is to strengthen existing trade rules and standards as well as extending protection to additional plants and animals that are threatened around the world.
Australia ratified CITES in 1976.
We are bound by the provisions set under the convention. This is reflected in our federal legislation, specifically the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Federal Department of the Environment and Energy helps administer the export and import of animals and plants and is also part of the Convention’s Management and Scientific Authority. Other agencies involved in the enforcement of CITES in Australia include Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police.
What Taronga is doing about illegal wildlife trade?
Taronga Conservation Society Australia has partnered with TRAFFIC (an international wildlife trade monitoring organisation) to develop a smartphone app called Wildlife Witness. This app allows people to document and report any illegal wildlife trade. The information collected through the Wildlife Witness app is then analysed by a Wildlife Crime Data Analyst and referred to the relevant authorities for follow-up and enforcement. The app has already been downloaded over 15,000 times and has led to the reporting and intervention of the sale of pangolins, hornbills and slipper orchids across South-East Asia.
Download Wildlife Witness app and help fight against the illegal trade of plants and animals around the world.