GENEVA— As the 18th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) wraps up in Geneva today, nations confirmed new protections for dozens of endangered wildlife species. The CITES treaty regulates the trade in imperiled animals and plants — the second biggest threat to species’ survival after habitat loss.
African animals did well. Giraffes received protections for the first time, as parties to the treaty voted to control trade in live and dead giraffes and their bones and skins by requiring permits and sustainability findings. Proposals to open trade in both elephant ivory and rhino horn were firmly rejected, reflecting a worldwide outcry against the ugly trade.
“This meeting was a crucial step toward halting the stunning decline of Africa’s most famous species — giraffes, elephants and rhinos,” said Tanya Sanerib, U.S.-based international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re thrilled that CITES countries threw giraffes a much-needed lifeline and held firm against the ivory and rhino horn trade.”
Overall giraffe populations dropped by up to 40 percent between 1985 and 2015, threatened by habitat loss and hunting, including for trophies and the bone trade in the United States.
Marine creatures received protections, too. The mako shark fin trade will be tightened under new protections. Teatfish sea cucumbers received much-needed trade controls, as sea cucumbers around the globe decline due to their consumption in China as a delicacy.
CITES parties also voted to rein in the pet trade by requiring permits for trade in beautiful, blue ornamental tarantulas, adorable otters, tokay geckos and several newts. Another measure will halt all trade in the flat but charming pancake tortoise, the star tortoise and several other turtles.
There are 183 nations around the world that are parties to CITES. The treaty provides two levels of protections: Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade in the most imperiled species, and Appendix II, which requires nations to issue permits before export and make a finding that trade will not be “detrimental” to the species’ survival. The CITES parties meet once every three years to vote on protections and the treaty’s interpretation.
An international team of scientists recently predicted the extinction of a million species in the next few decades if dramatic changes are not made. They identified overexploitation — including trade — as the second greatest driver of species extinction.
“This CITES meeting was a breath of fresh air amid an onslaught of bad news for wildlife, from climate change and habitat destruction to trophy hunting,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. “Watching the world take action to protect so many species, from iconic giraffes to lowly sea cucumbers, from the threat of trade gives me a rare glimmer of hope for our natural world.”