How effective is CITES?

  • 14/07/1997

How effective is CITES? Almost the same controversies surrounded the proposal from South Africa to lift the ban in exports of the Southern White Rhinoceros, which was also rejected by the cop-10. South Africa, home to the largest population of White Rhinos, wanted a zero quota initiaAy, until a trading system with appropriate controls is set up to prevent lioandering of illegal products. fhe proposal pointed OLIt that the trade ban has not been responsible for the increase in rhino numbers - the population in South Africa has grown from 20 to more than 7,500 only because of effective protection and management. Since the trade ban in 1977, the African Black Rhino and the three Asianspecies have declined dramatically, and poaching continues today (see box: Under siege: the rhino). Between 1970 and 1993, more than 95 per cent of the world's Black rhinoceroses disappeared and populations of Javan and Surnatran rhinos are on the brink of extinction. In India, poaching has decimated the population of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros in recent years, despite measures to protect the population, concentrated in Assam (see table: Dwindling population).

The major immediate threat for all species of rhinos today is use of the rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine, and for manufacturing traditional dagger handles in Yemen and Oman. Rhino conservation in both Africa and Asia comes at a very high cost - as much as $1000-1500 per sq km. The bulk of this expenditure has been borne by the governments or private sector management authorities. Continuing this pendi ture is one of the major problems facing conservation departments in Africa. Many conservationists feel that the only way to curtail rhino poaching is to work with the practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine. Two major workshops with traditional medicine communities from China have already been conducted.

At the 9th CITES meeting, South Africa forwarded a proposal to have its population of White Rhinoceroses moved from Appendix I to Appendix ii,. It also wanted live rhinos listed for sale and for hunting trophies. Because most of the southern African populations live on private land, these countries want rhino horn trade legalised. "The private sector plays an increasingly important role in rhino conservation - it already owns more than 20 per cent of the nation's stock," says Michael Tsas-Roffes, a conservation economist from South Africa. "By expanding markets for rhino products, such as skins and eventually horn, incentives to reinvest profits in conservation will be greatly increased."

Meanwhile, South Africa's proposal has been strongly opposed by the Indian delegation, headed by S C Dey. It circulated a declaration signed by about 250 members of Indian Parliament, calling upon governments participating in the cop to "forcefully and publicly oppose" any proposal for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn, as this would provide an opportunity to poachers in India to pass off horns from Indian rhinos into the legal route (see report, 'No horn, please', page 13).

Among other issues discussed at CITES which drew attention was the proposal from Finland, Bulgaria and Jordan to move all Asian and European populations of brown bear (Ursus arctos) from Appendix it to Appendix I. The proposal on th'e brown bear was rejected on the grounds that most populations do not meet the necessary criterion, and that there was a healthy population of the species. Jn countries like Spain, France, Greece, and Italy the brown bear has been threatened by habitat destruction and illegal killing animals, but the culprit of problem once again is not trade, it was maintained. "The most recent information available does not confirm that international trade in bear parts is causing a decline in their populations," said officials from TRAFFIC. The gall bladder of the brown bear is used in traditional Chinese medicine. A similar problem is faced with regard to the Royal Bengal Tiger, which has been poached heavily in recent years. The bones of the animal are used in traditional Chinese medicines. Despite efforts by the government of India and NGOS like the World Wide Fund For Nature-India to protect the species, the tiger is endangered and will remain so as long as illegal trade continues (see box: Troubled tiger). But TRAFFIC cautions countries against looking on CITES as a panacea from poaching. National agencies are responsible for enforcement of anti-poaching measures and efforts against illicit trade, it says.

In view of this admitted limitation of CITES in enforcing what has been agreed by consensus by parties to the conven tion, what, if any, has been the achievement of CITES?

As far as endangered species in India and international trade is concerned, it is apparent that CITES has been ineffective in controlling illegal trade in the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Greater One-horned Rhino and the Asian elephant. Populations of all three species are dwindling and the situation is alarming. Unfortunately, there has been no evaluation of CITES even 20 years after it came into being. Important questions remain unanswered. Has, for instance, the imposition of a ban on trade in endangered species brought down their international prices~ Going by the figures on illegal trade and poaching, CITES has only managed to drive trade underground and it is still thriving. Countries continue to lose their precious wildlife heritage. Those The last stand;-rileRoyal Bengal Tiger is at the mercy of poachers - which have little say or do not figure in terms of buying or selling of animal products are strapped for resources for conservation. So is CITES no more than a where the rich and the powerful can ensure that their trade interests are not compromised. Is it a convention where overt consensus is obtained by de~eloped countries like the us and to underhand tactics such as withdrawing realised that the South will not bow to pressure, that it is not or offering aid to developing countries~ Or is it a democratic forum which a country is free to join, an exercise in regulating trade in species to fund genuine conservation needs whether forum in the North or the South~ If the developed countries are so concerned about protecting species even at the cost of humans, let them fund conservation with no strings attached and in a disinterested manner. It is time that the North Japan by resorting willing to accept the North's version of what constitutes 'sustainable development'.

Related Content