Photo: Joel Herzog

Washington, D.C., October 4, 2016Born Free USA, a global leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, sent a team to Johannesburg, South Africa for the past two weeks to advance wildlife conservation at the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Born Free USA declares the meeting a success.

Today, at the final plenary meeting of the Conference: Parties confirmed that all eight pangolin species would be prohibited from international commercial trade; Parties adopted new recommendations on how to protect cheetahs, African wild dogs, and lions; and Parties beat back attempts to enable trade in rhino horn from Swaziland and elephant ivory from Namibia and Zimbabwe.

More than 26,000 pangolin products were imported in the United States between 2004 and 2013. Photo: © Tikki Hywood Trust For The HSUS

More than 26,000 pangolin products were imported in the United States between 2004 and 2013. Photo: © Tikki Hywood Trust For The HSUS

According to international wildlife conservation expert Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, “With 183 Parties bound by the Convention, CITES is the largest conservation agreement in existence. CITES deliberations are complex and intense, with thousands of delegates debating hundreds of issues. For every issue considered, there are Parties for and against, and vested interests pushing hard to either stop or facilitate the international wildlife trade. This meeting represents a clear win for conservation overall—but much work remains.”

Of importance, Roberts points out, is that a number of wildlife issues at the Conference were championed by West Africa. “While southern African (SADC) countries have long represented the most powerful voice on African wildlife issues, this Conference revealed the emergence of West African powerhouses: Benin on elephants, Burkina Faso on wild dogs, Senegal and Nigeria on pangolins, and Niger on lions. These Parties and their compatriots are to be congratulated for fighting hard to keep wildlife in the wild,” Roberts explains.

Born Free USA’s highlights from the meeting:


Although attempts from African elephant range states to put all of Africa’s elephants on Appendix I of CITES once again failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for adoption, Namibia’s and Zimbabwe’s attempts to reopen a destructive trade in elephant ivory was soundly defeated. Parties also made significant recommendations on dealing with national ivory stockpiles and closing down domestic ivory markets.

Elephants. (Photo via AWF)

Elephants. (Photo via AWF)


The scaly animals, thought to be the most heavily-traded mammals on Earth, were resoundingly listed on Appendix I. Pangolins do not breed in captivity and are taken from the wild to satisfy Asian demand for the scales for medicinal ingredients and the meat for luxury cuisine. “Poaching pressure on the wild pangolin could have easily driven the species to extinction without CITES’s further intervention,” said Roberts.


Not all issues were clear wins. The African lion was proposed for uplisting to Appendix I, but strong opposition from South Africa and Namibia complicated the debate. There was a lack of consensus since four southern African lion populations are increasing and some Parties, including the European Union, opposed offering different levels of protection based on geography.

All commercial trade in wild lion parts will now be prohibited and South Africa, with its barbaric and indefensible canned lion hunting industry, will have to establish a quota for the bones it exports commercially: a quota that will be scrutinized annually. In addition, the subject of the lion parts trade from all sources will be reviewed before the next CITES meeting, where further action can be taken. “Although Parties stopped short of giving lions the protection they need, the process for their long-term survival has now been fully engaged under CITES, and Born Free USA will maintain vigilant involvement in these discussions going forward,” Roberts concluded. “For lions, this CITES meeting was not the end, but the beginning.”

Photo Credit: African Wildlife Foundation

Photo Credit: African Wildlife Foundation

CITES Parties also increased protection for African grey parrots and Barbary macaques, and listed silky and thresher sharks on Appendix II. In addition, CITES Parties adopted groundbreaking decisions to fight against corruption, to develop measures for demand-reduction, and to strengthen wildlife law enforcement.

The international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually and includes millions of animals who are traded as trophies, pets, medicine, and more. After habitat destruction, exploitation of wild specimens for trade is a main reason for the critical decline of global biodiversity. CITES is one of the most effective global instruments to counter the depletion of wildlife species for trade. CITES accords varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants that are threatened by over-exploitation. The scientific and implementation committees of CITES will meet next year, and the next Meeting of the Conference of the Parties will be in Sri Lanka, most likely in 2019.

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