From Sochi to London, Let’s Win the Gold for Wildlife

Confiscated African grey parrots undergoing rehabilitation. Photo credit: Zanne Labuschagne/WCS.

By Susan Lieberman
October 6, 2018

[Note: this is the first in a series of blogs by WCS staff published during the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference: London 2018, which runs October 11–12]

Sochi, Russia

What do Sochi and London have in common? If your first thought was the Olympics, you would be correct, but this week only if you meant the Olympics of wildlife trade.

Between October 1–5, the Russian Federation hosted the annual meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Sochi. Next week, the UK government will welcome participants from across the globe to the fourth international conference on illegal wildlife trade.

The Sochi Standing Committee has focused on a large number of issues that relate to international trade in protected species of wild animals and plants — species listed on the so-called CITES Appendices. Those include species that are prohibited in all international commercial trade (including elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, African grey parrots, pangolins, whales, sea turtles and many more), as well as species whose trade is allowed if it is legal and sustainable.

In 2016, all 8 species of pangolin were listed in CITES Appendix I — the highest level of trade protection. Photo credit: Lucie Escouflaire/WCS

The illegal wildlife trade has been a major focus of this meeting and the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) team includes international experts on the issues being discussed — gathered from our offices in the US, Belgium, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Lao, and Congo. We are focused on illegal trade in African elephants, tigers, cheetahs, African grey parrots, turtles and tortoises, and the critically endangered helmeted hornbill — as well as non-compliance with CITES trade restrictions by several countries.

More than 100 governments will attend the meeting, including representatives from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania, along with conservation organizations from around the globe.

“In today’s ever-shrinking world, with consumer trade pressures increasing and air travel and shipping routes multiplying daily, the illegal wildlife trade has accelerated.”

WCS works in more than 60 countries around the globe, and it is rewarding to work collaboratively here with representatives of those countries for the benefit of wildlife. There have been some positive outcomes, along with some frustrations, but in general there has been progress at this meeting.

Having attended all CITES Standing Committee meetings and meetings of the Conference of the Parties of CITES since 1989, I can say that the diversity of issues has grown significantly, along with the threats to wildlife from unsustainable and illegal trade. In today’s ever-shrinking world, with consumer trade pressures increasing and air travel and shipping routes multiplying daily, the illegal wildlife trade has likewise accelerated. Organized criminal syndicates have inevitably entered to the lucrative global wildlife trafficking racket.

In London, conservationists hope to persuade governments to commit at the highest level to work to truly combat wildlife trafficking. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

Which takes us to London. From Sochi, some of the WCS team will head to London for the fourth international high-level conference on illegal wildlife trade. On behalf of WCS, I have attended all of the previous conferences (London 2014, Kasane 2015, and Hanoi 2016). The UK is hosting this event in London to focus on the role of transnational organized crime in the illegal wildlife trade.

“We must disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks driving this insidious illegal trade and work to ensure that all of these precious species across the globe can no longer be threatened by illegal killing.”

WCS staff from the US, Asia, and Africa hope to persuade governments to commit at the highest level to work to truly combat wildlife trafficking by: treating wildlife crime as serious transnational crime; using intelligence-led enforcement; prioritizing investigations and enforcement that disrupt and dismantle criminal networks; and closing markets for illegal wildlife products.

We want to see governments demonstrate true political will to combat the corruption that drives and facilitates wildlife trafficking. They must recognize that this is a global problem — impacting mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, etc., from all over the world.

Sumatran orangutans are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as ‘Critically Endangered.’ Photo credit: WCS Indonesia.

The Conference is a high-level forum, and Heads of State and Ministers are expected to attend. But any commitments achieved also need significant funding from private, government, and bilateral donors, as well as the on-the-ground conservation and enforcement efforts to combat the scourge of poaching and wildlife trafficking.

It is my hope that the governments, conservation organizations, and private industry in London can build on the efforts here in Sochi. We must disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks driving this insidious illegal trade and work to ensure that all of these precious species across the globe — from macaws in Central America to tigers in Asia — can no longer be threatened by illegal killing and illegal trade.

WCS will be there — in Sochi, in London, at the CITES Conference next year in Sri Lanka, in more than 60 countries across the globe, and wherever we are needed, building on our commitment and mission to save wildlife and wild places. We call on the rest of the world to join us on this journey, and win an Olympic gold for wildlife.

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Susan Lieberman is Vice President for International Policy at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Read other stories in this blog series:

At Home and in London, Nigeria Tackles the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Wildlife Trafficking’s New Front: Latin America

Wildlife Trafficking Takes Center Stage in London