The World's Largest Wildlife Conference Just Ended. Here's What You Need To Know

Written by WWF

Photo by WWF

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! As World Animal Day drew to a close yesterday, so did CITES—a bi-annual convention that regulates wildlife trade and animal conservation. For the last two weeks, lawmakers from across the world have gathered in South Africa to discuss the most effective ways to conserve thousands of species—everything from elephants and rhinos to psychedelic rock geckos and barbary macaques. Here are some of the major takeaways, straight from the World Wildlife Fund.

With illegal and unsustainable trade endangering wildlife across the world, governments united today behind a series of tough decisions to provide greater protection to a host of threatened species and bolster efforts to tackle soaring levels of poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Gathered in South Africa for the world’s largest ever wildlife trade meeting—the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—more than 180 countries voted to maintain the international ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn, while adopting global bans on trade in pangolins and African grey parrots.

Delegates agreed to a series of significant steps to ramp up the global response to illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.

The conference also imposed strict regulations on the trade in silky and thresher sharks, devil rays, as well as on all species of rosewood tree.

“With much of the world’s wildlife threatened by poaching and unsustainable trade, governments had to take bold action here in Johannesburg and they did. This conference can only be viewed as a major success for wildlife conservation,” said Theressa Frantz, WWF Co-head of Delegation to CITES CoP17.

“The world not only united behind the urgent need to protect threatened species, ranging from devil rays to rosewood trees, but also to bolster implementation and enforcement measures to ensure that trade regulations amount to more than ‘paper protection’,” added Frantz.

Among a record-breaking number of issues on the agenda, delegates agreed to a series of significant steps to ramp up the global response to illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.

This was the largest and most ambitious CITES conference, and in many ways the most successful.

Along with calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets that are contributing to illegal trade, countries backed the CITES-led National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process, which identifies countries that are weak points in the illegal ivory trade chain, and is central to efforts to halt the ivory trade.

Just as importantly, countries adopted enhanced traceability mechanisms that are at the heart of efforts to develop sustainable fisheries for sharks and rays, and tightened up rules relating to tiger farms and trade in captive-bred animals, which will help prevent the laundering of wild-caught animals.

“There were some grueling negotiations at this conference but the final outcome is a stronger global wildlife trade system and greater commitment by countries to act and, critically, to hold others to account,” said Frantz.

For the first time, the conference also officially debated and adopted resolutions on a number of critical crosscutting issues relating to illegal wildlife trade, including corruption and reduction of consumer demand for threatened wildlife and their parts.

“This was the largest and most ambitious CITES conference, and in many ways the most successful,” said Frantz. “Countries around the world must now turn the tough talk we have heard here in Johannesburg into tough measures on the ground."

CITES top takeaways:

  • Ivory trade will remain illegal across African countries
  • A new report finds no slow down in illegal tiger trafficking
  • It is now illegal to trade pangolins and African grey parrots
  • A new report finds a severe drop in the African elephant population

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