By John J. Jackson, III
From November 27 to December 1, 2017, Conservation Force attended the 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting involved over 600 participants and a "packed" agenda. We attended to support several initiatives, and also monitor proceedings to ensure no surprises could negatively impact regulated hunting. The Standing Committee established working groups to recommend actions to its next, 70th meeting. We joined at least six of these groups, so that we can provide technical assistance to the range states that rely on regulated hunting as a conservation tool, and also protect the interests of US hunter-conservationists. These "intersessional" working groups range from rhino to elephant, lion and rural community livelihoods.
The meeting successfully completed or advanced three Conservation Force Initiatives. First and finally, the Standing Committee agreed to lift the trade restrictions on hippo trophies from Mozambique that have been in place since 2012. Mozambique submitted an extensive non-detriment finding with updated hippo surveys and indicated it would set a low, precautionary quota for hippo for 2018. With an additional survey we hope to increase the quota in the future.
Second, for the first time, the Standing Committee established a mechanism to bring the voices of rural communities into the discussion of CITES regulation of listed species. At the Seventeenth Conference of Parties in Johannesburg in October 2016, Conservation Force assisted Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in submitting a proposal to form a Rural Communities Committee, to advise the Standing Committee just as the Animals and Plants Committees do now. The form of that proposal was not agreed to by the Parties. However, the Parties agreed to establish a working group to discuss how to get rural communities more involved in CITES decision-making.
This working group was officially struck at the Standing Committee. It contains 26 Parties, and Namibia is the Chair. Namibia must now involve an equal number of rural community representatives based on input from Parties and groups that have expressed an interest in being part of the working group. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) agreed to fund the working group's first meeting, which will take place in early 2018.
Establishment of this working group acknowledges that rural communities who may depend on the sustainable use of natural resources can be harmed by CITES restrictions on that use. There is no current mechanism to give rural communities an opportunity to object to CITES actions or listings, or have their concerns raised before the Parties. This working group is the first step to incorporating the concerns of those who live closest to the fauna and flora into the international decision-making.
Third, Zimbabwe submitted a document expressing concerns over how "the recent decisions of several airlines and maritime shipping companies to stop transporting/carrying legally acquired wildlife products and specimens are having undesirable and significant impact to the economy of Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa. Such decisions have also negatively affected the already fragile economy of our rural communities that rely on the legitimate and sustainable use of their wildlife resources for their livelihoods and other subsistence needs." Zimbabwe proposed that the Chair of the Standing Committee engage with airline and maritime shipping CEOs to note that such embargos are "against the spirit, intent and objectives of CITES" and will "NOT have any conservation benefits." (Conservation Force is still pursuing a claim against the airlines before the FAA.)
Japan, China, Mozambique, Botswana, and other Southern African countries spoke in support of Zimbabwe's proposal. South Africa spoke in favor of the proposal, but suggested that the CITES Secretary General be directed to engage with the transport CEOs. The Standing Committee ultimately determined to encourage the Secretariat to engage with the transport industry and with the International Air Transport Association to explain how CITES works and distinguish between illegal and legal trade. That is not a perfect outcome, but Zimbabwe's raising of this issue highlights the fact that transport industry decisions may have real, negative effects on range states and their citizens.
Overall, the Standing Committee was a success-there were no debates over regulated hunting, and there were positive steps taken, especially for Mozambique and rural communities.