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Rangers prepare to burn 4.6 tons of ivory in Kenya (Photo: Dai Kurokawa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Ivory Trade in AfricaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Illegal wildlife trade

Ron Corben, Bangkok
March 12, 2013

Member states to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are showing willingness to place bans and restrictions on the trade of several species, despite resistance from some Asian nations.


Putting a stop to the multi-million dollar international trade in illegal wildlife is the center of debate as over 170 countries meet in Bangkok.

The 16th conference of nations linked to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) comes against the backdrop of a decimation of African elephant herds, rhinos, marine life and several timber species. The CITES debates, due to run until March 14, are being seen as one of the most crucial in the 40-year history of the convention.

In a breakthrough Monday, March 11, proposals to protect several shark species were passed. CITES members placed porbeagles, three species of hammerhead sharks, and oceanic whitetip sharks on the restricted trade list, while freshwater sawfish was placed on the banned trade list.

Sharks gain protection

Marine life, especially sharks, turtles and tortoises, are under threat, with millions of sharks killed each year - up to 100 million, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - for their fins.

A man holds up an elephant tusk 30.10.2002
There is a large market for illegal ivory in AsiaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife with Humane Society International says Monday's decision "is the only way to truly give some of the most heavily traded species a respite from the commercial onslaught."

Humane Society International Australia Director Alexia Wellbelove says that now is the time to act lest the species become extinct. "We can stop those populations from dropping too much further, controlling it before it's too late."

Armed international gangs

CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon told DW the involvement of organized crime in the ivory trade, for example, has led to the rise of armed militias and rebel forces in Africa and that national park rangers were no match for the heavily armed gangs.

"They are not in a position to be able to confront these individuals. The gangs are vicious; they will kill people as fast as they will kill animals. So what do you do in that situation? How do we up the ante here to provide the support for individuals, but also for our wildlife?" Scanlon said.

African elephant

For the African elephant, the spike in the ivory trade, largely in Asian markets, especially China, has meant that in the past two years alone, an average of 68 African elephants have been killed each day.

Elephants drink from the Luvuvhu river at the Pafuri game reserve on July 23, 2010 in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
An average of 68 African elephants die every dayImage: Getty Images

According to CITES, around 25,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2011 alone. "We're still analyzing the figures for 2012, but it looks like they're possibly worse," Scanlon said. "So we're dealing with a significant escalation in [poaching] and we need to take significant measures to stop it."

Measures included the formation of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime in 2010. The group includes the CITES Secretariat, the international police organization, INTERPOL, the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Customs Organization and the World Bank.

While the UNODC has already said it is looking into strengthening the monitoring of illegal trade between Myanmar and Thailand, governments need to have the collective will to take on wildlife crime, Scanlon commented.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in her opening address vowed to reform Thai laws to halt the trade in illegal ivory. Some countries, such as Northern Cameroon and South Africa, have come up with ways to curb poaching, by, for example, deploying military forces to chase them down.

Protecting the polar bear

But efforts to protect the polar bear, now under threat from both climate change and hunting, by banning trade, failed in the first round of voting. The ban had been backed by the US and Russia, but was opposed by Canada, where most of the world's approximate 20,000 polar bears now live.

Polar bear cub Anori explores the outdoor enclosure at the zoo in Wuppertal, Germany, on Monday, April 23, 2012. (Photo: Frank Augstein/AP/dapd)
Polar bears face a bleak futureImage: dapd

Dr. Teresa Telecky, a director for Humane Society International said the outlook for the polar bear was grim. "Polar bear scientists have estimated that we will lose two-thirds of the world's polar bears by 2050, and by the end of the century there will only be one tiny, small population of polar bears left in Canada. It's a very serious situation," she told reporters.

While reductions in polar bear populations are a direct result of climate change, over-killing by Canada's indigenous population, who are free to hunt the bear, is the key threat, she added.

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