Seven nations may lose their ability to legally trade tens of thousands of wildlife species after UN conservation delegates agreed to penalise them for lacking tough regulations or failing to report on their wildlife trade.
The suspensions against the seven nations – Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria – were approved by consensus among the delegates and would take effect October 1.
They would prevent the countries from legally trading in any of the 35,000 species regulated by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said Juan Carlos Vasquez, a spokesman for the UN office that administers the treaty.
Delegations to the weeklong meeting of CITES, a treaty overseen by the UN Environment Program in Geneva, agreed to trade suspensions against Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay and Rwanda based on their lack of national laws for regulating the lucrative wildlife trade.
The Geneva meeting’s attendees also agreed to trade suspensions against Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria based on their failure to adequately report what they are doing to regulate wildlife trade, as they are required to do under the CITES treaty.
To avoid the sanctions, and the prospect of losing millions of dollars in commerce, the seven must now draw up the required legislation or submit their missing annual reports to CITES by October 1.
According to CITES, about 97 percent of the species it regulates are commercially traded for food, fuel, forest products, building materials, clothing, ornaments, health care, religious items, collections, trophy hunting and other sport. The other 3 percent are generally prohibited.
CITES estimates the regulated global wildlife trade is between $350 million and $530 million a year, or almost $2.2 billion over the five years from 2006 to 2010. During that time, logging of big leaf mahogany alone accounted for $168 million in trade. By volume, American black bears, South American grey foxes, Senegal parrots and Malaysian box turtles were among the most traded.
TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that commercial trade in wildlife has risen sharply from around $160 billion a year in the early 1990s. But the multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife is a growing problem, and environmentalists say a big reason is nations’ failure to enact stiff penalties for traffickers or enforce wildlife laws already on the books.
The delegates are expected to consider a more controversial topic: a call to resume the legal ivory trade as a way to stop the recent rise in elephant poaching in Africa.
That proposal, put forward in a CITES-commissioned report, would set up a centralised system to allow for the sale of ivory from elephants that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.
It is the first time such a proposal has been made since a global ban on ivory went into effect in 1989. That ban mostly halted widespread poaching, but in the past decade the problem has worsened owing mainly to an Asian appetite for ivory chopsticks, statues and jewellery.
The rise in rhino poaching also is on the agenda.
Experts rank wildlife smuggling among the top aims of criminal networks, along with drugs and human trafficking. CITES says wildlife crime remains poorly studied, but it says international estimates of the scale of illegal wildlife trade range from between $16 billion and $27 billion a year.
Tiger parts, elephant ivory, rhino horn and exotic birds and reptiles are among the most trafficked items. To fight it, CITES has formed a consortium with Interpol, the UN office on drugs and crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.