Commentary by Will Travers, SSN President
July 1, 2005 marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The treaty is as relevant today as it was when it first entered into force in 1975. Then, as now, global commerce in wild animals and plants threatens wild populations. CITES appropriately recognizes that “wild fauna and flora in their many beautiful and varied forms are an irreplacable part of the natural systems of the earth which must be protected for this and the generations to come.” These important words continue to guide the Convention’s work today, and presumably will continue to do so well into the future.
The Convention has grown from 21 to 167 Parties and is widely regarded as one of the most important conservations treaties in the world. The breadth of its membership is met by the breadth of the problem CITES Parties face-preventing imperiled species across the globe from decimation through international trade.
Currently, various degrees of CITES trade controls apply to over 33,000 species of wild animals and plants listed on the Appendices. While the importance of trade controls for such well-known endangered species as tigers or great apes are largely undisputed, through global cooperation CITES affords protection to many lesser-known species of animal and plant such as the elusive fossa, the Chinese crocodile lizard, the quetzal and the monkey puzzle tree.
While Governments have the responsibility for enforcement and implementation and regularly vote on the level of protection accorded to individual species, as world citizens we have the responsibility to ensure that our elected representatives receive the assistance, information and, where necessary, the critical evaluation necessary to ensure they make the best decisions for wildlife. It is also vital to educate the public so that they understand their individual role in protecting wildlife from over-exploitation through the consumer purchases they make and the decisions they take in their daily lives.
As a coalition on non-governmental organisations representing millions of citizens around the world, the SSN has a powerful and influential role in bringing the voice of the public to the CITES process, and ensuring that many people in developing countries have a voice in protecting their indigenous wildlife. Thirty years ago the world’s human population stood at about 3 billion. Today it has more than doubled. Our cumulative pressure on the environment, natural resources, wildlife and wild areas is incredible.
CITES will have a vital part to play in deciding whether there is a future for wildlife or not. The SSN will do everything in its power to ensure that through a combination of passion, professionalism, dedication and determination the existence of the many species that make up life on earth is not threatened by the activities of the dominant species- our own.
Views from SSN Members
“Governments and their leaders have surely changed a lot in the past three decades, but we’re pleased that the CITES commitment to wildlife has never wavered in all these years. It’s a true testament to the importance of the Convention.”
–Adam Roberts, Born Free USA, Washington DC, USA
“At the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the CITES Convention, we would like to congratulate the Secretariat for the Convention’s achievements in protecting endangered species worldwide. We would like to take this opportunity to encourage all Parties to the Convention to continue their efforts to safeguard wild animals’ lives and welfare, and to ensure that, when trade takes place, animals are transported, accomodated and taken care of in a way that guarantees their welfare. On behalf of Eurogroup for Animal Welfare/EWLA.”
–Véronique Schmit, Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, Brussels, Belgium
“In today’s reality, life and survival of the remaining animal and vegetal species would be unthinkable without CITES, notwithstanding CITES’s shortcomings. With CITES, the trading countries are setting limits to their own frensey of exploitation and profit, limits that are destined to guarantee continuation of the species into a far away future. Thank heaven for CITES.”
–Vera Weber, Franz Weber Foundation, Lausanne, Switzerland
“In a world where more wildlife and wild spaces dangle closer to extinction than ever before, CITES is the only evidence that once, 30 years ago, the international community paused long enough to consider what was at stake. Over the next 30 years, the political commitment to CITES — and the will to follow through — will decide the future for us all.”
–Doug Cress, Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance, Los Angeles, California, USA
“The International Primate Protection League has attended every CITES Conference of the Parties since the 1979 Costa Rica meeting. We have formed invaluable links with wildlife officials from around the world. The problems that CITES seeks to address are immense – human greed and corruption are so hard to control. Yet somehow CITES has made a dent in the colossal problem of wildlife trafficking and contributed to the survival of many species.”
–Shirley McGreal, International Primate Protection League, Summerville, South Carolina, USA
“CITES is among the most effective and powerful tools available for conservation of endangered species, as it halted the imminent extinction of many species exploited for international trade, such as elephants, sea turtles or wild cats. Urgent candidates for future protection through CITES would include sharks, tropical timber and many bird species that are unprotected so far.”
–Sandra Altherr, Pro Wildlife, Munich, Germany
“The RSPCA warmly congratulates the CITES family on its 30th anniversary, thanks Parties for recognising the importance of protecting species and in doing so recognises the efforts of those who have dedicated their lives to the the enforcement of CITES’ regulations.”
–Rob Atkinson, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom