The illicit wildlife trade has surged in recent years, driving precious species to the brink, but there’s hope that we can make an impact now.
As delegates from more than 180 countries prepare to gather for the Seventeenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Sept. 24-Oct. 5 in Johannesburg, the fate of key wildlife species hinges on the agreements that will be hammered out.
The recent surge in wildlife trafficking is unprecedented. Nearly 7,000 species of wild animals and plants are threatened by this illicit trade. Demand for ivory is so great that the iconic African savanna elephant population has been cut by almost a third over seven years, according to recent results from our Great Elephant Census (GEC). Vast stretches of the ocean where sharks once roamed have shown to be empty through the Global FinPrint. That means securing new protections for these species at CITES — the premier international agreement between governments to address the problem — is vital.
CoP17 has been a priority for the team at Vulcan. Armed with extensive data from the GEC and seeing the destruction of elephants firsthand, we’re encouraging those who do vote to look at the “bulletproof” data and to go further to end the ivory trade. Although many countries have committed close the ivory trade, all countries must adopt domestic bans to protect these iconic species.
Vulcan is joining others in urging leaders at CITES to adopt new trade restrictions for sharks and rays. Silky sharks, thresher sharks and mobula rays are in trouble primarily due to unsustainable international trade and poor enforcement of measures, these species have suffered declines of over 70 percent across their range due to the demand for shark fin soup. If adopted, these new protections would double the percentage of shark fin trade that is regulated.
History has shown the impact of a CITES listing. In 2013, the gill rakers business was booming, and impacting ray populations. The industry was valued at more than $30 million and sales had doubled in three years. Fueling this demand was a superstitious health tonic in China that relied on the manta ray gills. While their popularity soared in the wildlife trafficking circle, the manta population was in ruins. In less than a decade, scientists had documented population declines of 56–86 percent for an species whose numbers were already unknown and only gave birth to one pup every two to five years. As depressing as this outlook seems, manta rays were given a lifeline that spring.
Compelled by their exploitation, members at CITES in Bangkok voted to enhance protections for manta rays. The following year Indonesia banned manta ray fishing, creating the world’s largest protected area for these iconic species. From there, a wave of actions cascaded. Building off the work in Indonesia, Peru and 12 other countries joined to implement varying degrees of protections closing down the largest manta fisheries in the world. And now, even China, where 99 percent of the gill plate trade occurs, is weighing bans.
The stakes are high coming into this year’s CITES meeting. A significant number of our planet’s most precious resources — both plants or animals — are at-risk, affecting not only the welfare of these species but human populations as well. As the only international and legally-binding treaty to control the trade of endangered species, the decisions made at CITES will have significant impact for years to come.