The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) is currently taking place in Johannesburg, September 24 to October 5, 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre.

CITES #CoP17,  attended by approximately 2 500 delegates, which includes representatives of 180 countries, is busy considering 62 proposals to change CITES trade controls affecting close to 500 species put forward by 64 countries from every region.

Its secretary-general, John E. Scanlon, has described the conference as ‘one of the most critical meetings in the 43-year history of the Convention’.
Changes to trade controls for the African elephant, white rhinoceros, lion, pumas, pangolins, silky and thresher sharks, devil rays, nautilus, peregrine falcons, African grey parrot, crocodiles, flapshell turtles, the Titicaca water frog and psychedelic rock gecko, as well as the Grandidier’s baobab tree and many species of rosewood, and other animals and plants are some of the conservation issues being discussed.

Some of the other challenges to be tackled are:

A review of the implementation of the Convention relating to captive bred and ranched species;
Tackling corruption as it affects illegal wildlife trade;
Scaling-up efforts to counter cybercrime in relation to illegal wildlife trade;
Strategies to reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife animals and plants;
Improving controls on the international trade in hunting trophies;

Rhinos
The 12 African rhino range states and ex-range states have agreed on an overall strategy to tackle poaching and increase the population of the animals in the coming five years. And after two years of discussions the African Rhino Range States’ African Rhino Conservation Plan was launched on the sidelines of the conference on September 25, by Edna Molewa, minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.

The African rhino range states and ex-range states are Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This plan will not supersede each country’s national plans and it ‘focuses on general principles of conservation on which all states could agree’, according to CITES’ website.
“[It] seeks to complement [national plans] by providing an overarching higher-level umbrella plan under which all the national plans can fit,” Molewa adds. “The continental plan also seeks to identify and focus on areas where collectively and co-operatively there may be opportunities for range states to work together to enhance rhino conservation.”

Some of the plan’s key points are:
1.Protection, law enforcement, investigations and intelligence: to implement legislation and strengthen law enforcement actions between both countries and different departments of government; improving investigation and collectively sharing knowledge, skill and state of the art technology;
2. Biological management: to achieve the envisioned growth rate to sustain, and manage the rhino population and to conserve genetic diversity through standardised monitoring;
Co-ordination: to improve co-ordination between range states by active involvement on an international scale;
3. Socio-economic: creating support for conservation by tapping into the local population through empowerment of people;
4. Political support: to boost collective continental political support for rhino conservation;
Communication and public support: to garner understanding and support from the public and all stakeholders involved in rhino conservation through targeted communication;
5. Capacity: to make certain there are enough human resources used wisely, and make sure they are appropriately trained and equipped; and,
6. Adequate financing: to explore and develop financing mechanisms and structures to make sure efforts are sustainable.

Ivory and Elephants
These are some of the ongoing issues to be discussed regarding ivory and elephants:
1.The interrelationship between illegal trade in elephant ivory and legal trade in mammoth ivory;
2. A decision making mechanism for a process of future international trade in elephant ivory, or draw the process to an end;
3. Restricting the legal trade in live elephants;
4. Managing the destruction of government-held ivory stockpiles;
5. Closing domestic markets for commercial trade in raw or worked ivory;
6. Parties will soon be able to freely access the world’s largest ivory database compiled using state of the art forensic techniques developed by Germany.

A new positive development is the IvoryID database, which German minister for the environment, Barbara Hendricks, symbolically handed over  to CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon, who said: “The use of modern forensics is a game changer in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. We are deeply grateful to Germany for developing a forensic technique that can determine the age and origin of ivory. Criminals illegally trading in ivory can no longer hide behind false claims of where and when they got their ivory”.

Accoding to the Cites website, the database – which can be accessed through a dedicated website – contains more than 700 reference samples from 30 African countries using data obtained from elephant ivory, with proven origin, provided by countries of origin, museum, hunters and others.

The African Grey Parrot
The African grey parrot has practically disappeared from many African countries. In Benin, Burundi, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo, populations of the species have declined 90% to 99%. In many more countries, the populations have declined more than 50% in the last three generations (46.5 years). In other nations, the bird is essentially extinct in the wild. If the capture for the pet trade is not stopped, we will see the African gray parrot succumb to extinction in most of the countries in West and Central Africa. Eventually, population declines became so severe that the majority of the countries in the African grey parrot’s range stopped all legal exports of the bird, except for Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2007, CITES recommended a two-year export ban from Cameroon for noncompliance with the regulations. And in January of this year, they recommended that all CITES Parties suspend all trade of African grey parrots from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But now, several African countries have come together to present a proposal to save the Grey parrot from extinction.
The countries of Angola, Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, European Union and United States of America presented a proposal to move the African grey parrot from Appendix II to Appendix I of CITES. Where species listed under Appendix II have their trade carefully regulated, for those listed under Appendix I, all international trade of wild-caught specimens is forbidden. Another nine African countries have joined in support of this proposal: Burundi, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo and Rwanda. It is extremely encouraging to see such a wide show of support for these much stronger measures to protect this native African bird says www.defendersblog.org

Sharks and Manta Rays
South Africa, home to one quarter of the world’s 400+ shark species, will this month host the triennial meeting of the World Wildlife Conference where strengthened protection for sharks and rays will again be high on the agenda.

Delegates from over 180 countries attending the meeting – also known as CITES #CoP17 – will receive updates on actions taken following CoP16 in Bangkok, where five shark species, namely the oceanic white tip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead, and all manta rays were given protection under CITES Appendix II, with trade in these species now being regulated to prevent over-exploitation. software has been developed for port inspectors, custom agents and fish traders to recognize shark species from a picture of the fin. iSHarkFin was the result of a collaboration between the FAO the University of Vigo and CITES, with financial support from the Government of Japan and the European Union (through the CITES project).

There are currently ten species of sharks and rays listed under CITES Appendix II, including the Basking shark, Great White Shark and Whale Shark, as well as the five shark and two manta species added to CITES Appendix II at CoP16.

Seven species of Sawfishes fall under Appendix I, which includes species threatened with extinction. Commercial trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. At CITES #CoP17 Parties will be asked to consider three more proposals to bring sharks and rays under CITES trade controls, namely to include:

Lions -another species marked for attention.

Although South Africa’s lion population is stable, its captive lion breeding industry remains a serious concern. A motion was recently approved at the World Conservation Congress calls for South Africa to review legislation and terminate the practice of ‘canned’ hunting and captive lion breeding.

“From a South African perspective, one of the most relevant issues to be discussed at CoP 17 is uplifting lion to Appendix I,” says Andrew Venter CEO of wildlands and executive producer of the documentary about canned lion trade – Blood Lions. “But moving lion to Appendix I may not stop the captive predator breeding trade. In practise, it may strengthen the industry as CITES encourages captive breeding of Appendix I species as a conservation tool, arguing that this takes the pressure off wild populations.”
The re-listing of the African lion form CITES II to CITES I, meaning a downscale in the species’ protection, will also be considered, while the global call to place a ban on canned lion hunting will also be addressed.
Although South Africa has 7 000 lions in captivity, leading global conservation groups do not attribute any conservation value to these.

Pangolins
While many people don’t even know what a pangolin is and have never seen one, it is now the most poached animal on our planet, with millions being killed in the last 10 years. Now the pangolin range states have agreed to transfer all eight species to an Appendix I listing.
“There are rigorous measures up for debate that would enhance the international response to the trafficking of pangolins and are essential to ensuring the proper implementation the new listings. We strongly support these additional measures and hope that they will also be overwhelmingly endorsed,” says a WWF statement.

The Convention
‘CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws.
Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Wildlife and forest crime is not limited to certain countries or regions, but is a truly global phenomenon.’