The 17th Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of the Parties (COP17) was hosted in Johannesburg from 24 September to 4 October. Cites is an international intergovernmental agreement that aims to regulate the trade of wildlife and plants to ensure their conservation and continued survival. The triennial event was attended by around 2 500 representatives from various governments and organisations and was hailed by Cites as the “largest ever world wildlife conference”. The conference resulted in various decisions and new regulations that will directly affect the trade and protection of African wildlife such as elephants, lions and African grey parrots.
In a recent article on the Natural Resource Defence Council’s (NRDC) website, Elly Pepper, a wildlife advocate for NRDC, says that the population of African elephants has drastically declined and two important decisions taken at COP17 encouraged countries to close their domestic ivory markets and halt the adoption of a framework for selling ivory. Ross Harvey, a senior researcher in natural resource governance at the South African Institute of International Affairs, argues in his article “Conservation decisions must protect the livelihoods of people living in Africa” published on The Conversation on 28 September, “A total ivory trade ban may not produce an immediate reversal of the poaching pandemic. Communities that resent the imposition of external norms may respond by poaching.”
At the conference a proposed resolution to completely ban the international trade in lions and lion parts was rejected. Instead, the ban only extends to the trade of wild lions’ bones, teeth and claws. This allows parts from captive-bred lions to be sold legally, although the South African government now keeps track of these sales.
The big news at the conference, however, was the resolution that was passed banning the international trade of wild African grey parrots. The bird is a well-known household pet due to its entertaining nature and is commonly traded in South Africa. The decision on the species was met with satisfaction from various conservation groups. Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) vice president of international policy and head of the WCS delegation at Cites, Susan Lieberman, released a statement on behalf of the WCS saying, “If this bird could talk – and it certainly can – the African grey parrot would say thank you.” Not everyone was so enthusiastic, Ben Minnaar, a representative from the Parrot Breeders Association of Southern Africa speaking to IOL in an article published on 30 September titled “Call to protect parrots ruffles feathers” called the decision “short-sighted”, as it will negatively affect breeders in South Africa and instead increase the illegal trade of the species.
John Scanlon, the Secretary-General of Cites, has described COP17 as “a game changer that will be remembered as a point in history when the tide turned in favour of ensuring the survival of our most vulnerable wildlife.” The next conference will be held in Sri Lanka in 2019.