The Hague—In just one day, CITES Parties undermined conservation efforts for two species targeted by trophy hunters—leopards and, in particular, rhinos. “It is terribly unfortunate that CITES Parties have again put the interests of wealthy trophy hunters above the needs of imperiled species,” said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation and Chairman of the Species Survival Network. “The unceremonious slaughter of endangered species is not real conservation.”
Despite a profound lack of contemporary scientific information about the population status of wild leopards in Africa, the United Nations meeting yesterday supported proposals to establish or increase leopard trophy export quotas for two African nations. CITES delegates in The Hague approved a proposal by Uganda to export 28 leopard trophies annually; Mozambique was allowed to double their quota from 60 to 120 leopard trophies annually.
Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, supported both proposals while at the same time acknowledging that the two countries had no current statistics about leopard numbers and that the most recent figures were from 1988. Inexplicably, they said that the quota was nonetheless conservative.
“CITES requires export quotas to be science-based,” said Dr. Teresa Telecky, Director of the Wildlife Trade Program for Humane Society International and Chair of the Trophy Hunting Working Group of the SSN. “The EU, which represents 27 Parties, ignored the lack of a credible scientific basis in supporting these proposals.”
Experts consider the wild leopard population to be declining in the wild although the actual number of leopards is unknown. A continent-wide census has never been conducted and neither Mozambique nor Uganda had any recent data on population sizes. Even the older data they used in support of their proposals were based on indirect counts using rainfall and available habitat to estimate numbers: these methodologies are known to grossly over-estimate leopard populations.
“The agreement to set leopard export quotas arbitrarily and without requiring a sound scientific basis undermines the credibility of the Convention, endangers wild populations and sets a dangerous precedent for future CITES decisions.” said Dr. Telecky.
In another startling move, Parties reaffirmed their preference for sport hunting endangered black rhinos rather than re-stocking former habitat. A proposal from Kenya seeking to revoke the controversial decision, approved at the last conference in Thailand, to allow both Namibia and South Africa to sell the lives of five ‘surplus’ males, was debated briefly, then put to a vote which failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority. Two countries, Rwanda and the DRC, offered to pay a fair price for the rhinos and pay for their relocation to re-stock their national parks that have been badly hit by poaching. They hoped that the return of this charismatic species would help boost tourism, which is now booming in Rwanda. Their offer fell on deaf ears.
“Black rhinos are not just ornaments; they play an important role in the ecology of their habitat, but no-one yet puts a cash value on the ecosystem services provided by rhinos,” commented Ian Redmond, a Born Free consultant and vice-chair of the UK Rhino Group.
Redmond added: “There are many thousands of square miles of former rhino habitat without rhinos. These animals could have been part of a founder population established to re-build ecosystems shattered by poaching. It seems extraordinary that CITES would choose sport hunting over habitat restoration, given that South Africa and Namibia would still be paid for the animals!”.
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