The 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that ended in Johannesburg this week was hailed as “game changer” in the global effort to ensure the survival of the most vulnerable wildlife.

The CITES CoP17 was the largest ever meeting of its kind with 152 governments making decisions on 62 species-listing proposals submitted by 64 countries.The Johannesburg meeting ended a day early on 4 October, with high levels of consensus and a focus on implementing decisions.

At the conference, Namibia and Zimbabwe failed in their attempt to have CITES allow them to export elephant ivory. Swaziland’s request to be allowed to sell rhino horn was also rejected.
Member states voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposals to sell tusks and horns, whether they are seized from poachers or taken from animals that die naturally or have been killed by the state because of their destructive activities, such as crop raiding.

Said John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General: “CoP17 adopted decisions that saw wildlife firmly embedded in the agendas of global enforcement, development and financing agencies that have the capacity and technical expertise to help ensure implementation of the Convention on the front lines, where it matters most – with the CITES management and scientific authorities, as well as customs officials, rural communities, businesses, police, prosecutors and park rangers.

“Notable successes included decisions to bring new marine and timber species under CITES trade controls, continuing a trend from CoP16 where countries turned to CITES to assist them along the path to sustainability in oceans and forests. It was not just the well-known species that were on the agenda, the pangolin and many lesser known species also came under the spotlight,” Mr. Scanlon was quoted as saing ina in a CITES press release.

Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said: “Protection of endangered species is paramount when it comes to preserving our natural heritage. The CITES conference saw a strong desire from countries to ensure that we are mounting a defense for plants and animals, big and small. Illegal trade of everything from the helmeted hornbill to the hundreds of species of rosewood severely damages our planet, and it’s only through the international cooperation we’ve seen under CITES that we can prevent it.”

The Johannesburg conference was marked by agreement on measures to improve sustainable trade in a number of species, including the queen conch, humphead wrasse, sharks, snakes and African wild dog as well as a large range of timber species, such as bubinga and rosewoods, and the African cherry and agarwood.

Parties also recognized several conservation success stories, including that of the Cape mountain zebra, several species of crocodiles and the wood bison, which were all by consensus downlisted from Appendix I under CITES to Appendix II in recognition of their improved conservation status.

There was fresh impetus to further safeguard threatened wild animals and plants with added protection for the African grey parrot, Barbary Macaque, Blaine’s fishhook cactus, elephant, pangolin and saiga antelope; and well-targeted enforcement measures agreed to combat illegal trade for specific species. These included the African grey parrot, African lion, cheetah, helmeted hornbill, pangolin, rhino and totoaba.

Multiple new animals and plants were also added to CITES Appendices for the first time, and hence will come under CITES trade controls. These decisions affect a large number of mammals, marine and timber species as well as many reptiles and amphibians and include more than 350 species of rosewood, devil rays, silky sharks and thresher sharks.

“CITES is now seen as an indispensible tool for achieving the Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals,” observed Mr. Scanlon.

CoP17 saw a number of firsts, including, the first ever:

  • Resolution on corruption and wildlife crime;
  • Decisions on cybercrime and wildlife crime;
  • Resolution on strategies to reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife,
  • Resolutions affecting the helmeted hornbill and snakes;
  • Decisions on targeting the illegal fishing of and trade in totoaba, and the related illegal killing of the vaquita;
  • Resolution and decisions on youth engagement in CITES; and
  • Decisions on rural communities engagement, providing a greater voice for local people in managing wildlife.