Head of CITES talks on legal and illegal wildlife trade


International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

Date Published

Head of CITES talks on legal and illegal wildlife trade – See more at: http://ictsd.org/i/news/bioresreview/185637/#sthash.orVR8aY3.dpuf

Monday 3 March marked the international community’s first ever day dedicated to wildlife, as set by the UN General Assembly this past December. The Assembly requested the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, together with relevant organisations in the UN system, facilitate the new event. The occasion also represented the 41st anniversary of the adoption of the CITES treaty. This interview with the CITES Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon, was conducted during the day’s celebrations at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Congratulations on running the international community’s inaugural World Wildlife Day. What do you hope this event will achieve?
[John Scanlon] This is the first time we’ve seen a day dedicated to wildlife in the United Nations calendar. There’s no specific theme for this year, but we thought the whole event would be useful for three purposes.

The first is to celebrate the natural beauty of wildlife, which is what the Wild and Precious exhibit being opened at the Palais today is all about.

The second is to highlight the many benefits that people derive from wildlife – for example, how many million tourists every year interact with wild plants and animals, from snorkelling with corals, to watching mountain gorillas in the wild, to enjoying a safari. Some plants and animals are also commercially traded, specifically those not yet threatened with extinction. If they are traded in a well-regulated way, it benefits the local community. Examples here would include trade in python skins, in alligator skins, in the meat of the Queen conch, or in the wool of the vicuña. This kind of trade is sustainable, it helps people to derive a livelihood, but in a way that doesn’t threaten the survival of the species – so it’s a nice mix.

Thirdly, we also want World Wildlife Day to draw global attention to the immediate threats posed by the illegal wildlife trade. Poaching and smuggling has got to extraordinary proportions. Today is good opportunity to draw the world’s attention to this global challenge, and to remind everyone that, as citizens and consumers, we all have an impact on wild plants and animals, including through what we buy. Our message is that everyone should do what he or she can to make sure they are helping combat this illegal trade.

The event here today involved the UN Secretary General, the President of the UN General Assembly, the President of the Swiss Confederation, and multiple diplomats, which raises the level of political attention given to such wildlife issues. And it’s also useful to have a day in the international calendar where we can pause, reflect, and reconnect, with the planet’s wild side.

When talking about conservation approaches, there is often quite a polarised debate around sustainable use. How can we balance the rhetoric of wildlife crime with the fact that most international wildlife trade is legal?
[JS] Our international Convention draws a distinction between species; there are some species that are threatened with extinction, wherein no commercial trade is allowed – that’s only 3 percent of the species that we regulate. [Editor’s note, for more on CITES role, see Scanlon’s presentation at a recent Symposium on International Wildlife Trafficking.] This includes animal populations of the great ape, the tiger, and the elephant. 96 percent of the other species on our lists are not yet in the same critical position, but could be if we don’t regulate responsibly. There I think we’re seeing great benefits from that well regulated trade, according to figures on our trade database.

You do, however, also see some illegal trade on this 96 percent. Legal python skin trade is worth around a billion dollars a year, but the black market trade is about the same order, which actually undermines the clean, responsible market and could ultimately destroy it. In these instances, CITES is working closely with partners such as the Swiss government, as well as major fashion houses, to work on better tracing the wildlife product from field to shop.

On the other side, rhino horn, elephant ivory, and tiger parts should not be traded commercially in any circumstances. Here we see the involvement of trans-national criminal gang networks. In such cases you have to hit these operations with the full force of the law, involving the same international cooperation techniques as used with other serious global crimes, such as trafficking in humans, firearms, and narcotics.

What about making a distinction between the different kinds of criminals involved in these illegal trades, for example the head of the criminal network and the poacher in the field?
[JS] There does need to be a distinction; we need to place the most emphasis at the top-end, with the kingpin. Those at the other end are largely being ripped off in every way. They do not receive the large sums made from sales in trafficked goods and they are also, more broadly, depriving their communities of future development prospects. These individuals therefore need to be treated slightly differently, but it’s crucial to go after those at the top.

Moving forward, what do you hope to see coming out of the London Declaration made a couple weeks ago?
[JS] The most significant meeting we’ve had in the last 12 months was the 16th CITES COP, because that’s a forum where binding decisions are taken, and governments will be held to account for these. But a lot of those decisions need high-level political buy-in, for example, treating wildlife as a serious crime might mean changing national legislation. What we saw in London is excellent political momentum, but it also went a little bit further in some areas, by focusing on reducing the demand side. The main thing for us, however, is that it has elevated the level at which this discussion is taking place – it’s important to get heads of state or senior ministers involved to get a fast and whole-of-government response. We were also pleased with the way they prepared it; they had a very inclusive process.

Over to the consumer side, what kinds of policy actions are needed to bring down demand?
[JS] There are a few things. For example, tomorrow there’s going to be a joint initiative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNESCO, and the UN World Tourism Organisation, which is going to work on targeting the world’s billion annual travellers, making sure that they are not participating in illicit goods trades. This goes beyond wildlife trafficking of course, to arms, narcotics, etc. This combined effort will, however, reach out to a large and important group of people. Tourists need to be more fully informed because, a lot of the time, they are not aware of the situation and are unwittingly driving demand. Furthermore, the US$10 they spend on an illicit good is not the “true price,” in terms of the sustainability costs.

We’ve also seen positive things in China including the recent ivory crush – which sends a signal to the black market that illegally taken ivory is worthless and it also sends a strong message to criminals that are speculating that there will be no commercial return on their investment. Finally, the event was broadcast live across China, which is important as it also reached the consumer at the local level.

John E. Scanlon, Secretary General, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)


Article at the following link: