Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Why do we have international agreements on ivory trade, but no results? Control of the trade of the endangered species of animals, plants and their parts is critically important for preserving biodiversity. However, poachers and smugglers are continuing to violate international laws. This paper provides a detailed analysis of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora rules and violations in ivory trade cases, including the results of the 17th CITES. Further, the paper discusses the importance of local activities to protect endangered species. The paper pays attention to the role of ivory demand in minimizing the effects of conservation of the African elephants’ population. Data used in this investigation is taken from printed books on ecology, endangered species, and CITES, Internet publications of broadcasting companies. and official sites of environmental protection organizations. All data is carefully organized according to the period of time it has appeared. Moreover, the paper provides analysis and comparative analysis. According to the conclusion, international laws and conventions need local political acceptance and implementation of initiatives. In addition, traditional conservation methods are not enough to protect endangered species. People should reject ideas to buy such animals, plants, or their parts.

Illicit trade in endangered species is a multi-billion dollar business. The growing demand for products made from animals that have the status of national symbols in Africa and South Asia (elephants, rhinos and tigers) is a threat to peace and security in these regions. The reduction of biological diversity affects the supply of fresh water and food production while depriving locals of economic resources. In developing countries, the rural population is often economically dependent on the local wild flora and fauna.

Problems of legal protection, rational use, and reproduction of natural resources cover an unusually wide range of issues. In this field, despite the significant progress, the problem of preservation of the entire diversity of living beings and their gene pool remains (Barnosky et al. 2011). In addressing this problem, an important role belongs to the law. Law is a universally valid normative, which has formal definition, acts through subjective rights and duties, and provides state coercion. At the same time, legal conditions and requirements achieve their objectives only if there is a scientific justification. Only when such a relationship will become constant and consistent, the main strategic goal, which is the qualitative and quantitative recovery of species, will be achieved.

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The high level of demand and law enforcement difficulties attract transnational organized crime groups. The high price of wild resources leads to corruption, which endangers the rule of law and hampers economic development in countries rich in such resources. Many governments, intergovernmental organizations, law enforcement agencies, and non-governmental groups are working to put an end to the illegal trade in species. More than 183 states have acceded to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which sets standards guaranteeing the removal of threats of illegal international trade to any species of wild animals or plants (Reeve 2014). International agreements, however, do not protect endangered species at a sustainable level if the demand for such animals, plants, or derivatives is high.

Statement of the Question and Argument in Brief

Why is it so difficult to protect endangered species despite considerable international efforts? First, the CITES as well as the majority of international agreements aim to protect flora and fauna in general. It was developed as a part of the IUCN, the leading international non-governmental environmental organization that has adopted the ecosystem interdisciplinary approach to natural resource management as well as the principles of forecasting and prevention. However, international efforts to preserve species are less effective than expected .

The focus of each individual state and society on the protection of endangered species should be a priority, considering the increased vulnerability of these species to external effects and their unique and irreplaceable genetic material. In terms of the legal aspect, a special legal regime for rare and endangered species or, more accurately, their special protection is enshrined in the legislation.

An events unit should include preparation and implementation of proposals for special protection measures with the participation of locals, nature lovers, and the other interested persons. Newly implemented measures should include organization of specially protected natural territories, issuance of licenses for carrying out activities related to their use, and permits for taking care of wildlife listed in the Red Book.

Literature Review

The existing research covers the conservation of environment and biodiversity extensively. Policing International Trade in Endangered Species: The CITES Treaty and Compliance discusses CETIS as a way to preserve the existing species via trading regulations. This work depicts CITES drafting, problems of its implementation, and the economic consequences that have arisen as a result. The book considers control systems and installation of a quota for ivory. Additionally, the book discusses relevant resolutions of the Convention. They regulate trade in wild animals and plants, and impose the rule that animals bred in captivity should be considered wild. Its action extends to the so-called derivatives – products of animals and plants. Convention operates in 183 countries, providing varying degrees of protection to more than 5 600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants with different conservation status (Reeve 2014). They are listed in three Appendices of CITES and are grouped according to the degree of threat . As soon as wild animal and plant species fall into the list of CITES, international trade becomes subject to control, the degree of which varies up to a total ban. Responsibility for violating CITES regulations varies in different countries and can be quite serious. This responsibility is often compounded by violations of the rules of transportation of animals or plants. The book also considers the weaknesses of CITES positions and prospects of international trade in endangered animals.

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In the article “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?” published in the Nature journal, scientists from the United States under the direction of Anthony D. Barnosky compared the rate of species’ extinctions in the last 500 years at an average rate of extinction of species on Earth. They made an assumption that humanity now bears witness to the sixth mass extinction of species (Barnosky et al. 2011).

In The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal, the authors Moss et al. discuss the anatomy, behavior, habitat of elephants, the estimated decreases of natural habitats of these animals, and their religious significance for local aboriginal communities. They pay special attention to the poachers who hunt elephants for tusks. Ivory is used in jewelry, decoration,and manufacturing religious items (Moss et al. 2011).

Ed Couzens in his Whales and Elephants in International Conservation Law and Politics: A Comparative Study provides a clear depiction of CITES’ efforts to protect elephants and whales. This book is relevant due to its detailed critical analysis of the results of CITES activities devoted to elephants since 1989. It also considers the importance of elephants and whales to biodiversity, uses ecological approach, and pays attention to other environmental programs. Couzens argues that nowadays there is no trust among countries, but CITES was a way to find a compromise. According to the author, if compromise on elephants and whales was found, it would be found for other species as well (Couzens 2014).
Elephants and problems of trade in ivory are often discussed in specialized publications devoted to CITES and the environment in general, but the situation of the last decade is poorly described, mostly because the political and environmental activities are not matched.

CITES Historical Process Background

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, is an international governmental agreement signed as a result of the IUCN resolution in 1973 in Washington. The text of the Convention was signed on March 3, 1973 in Washington DC during a meeting of representatives from 80 countries (Reeve 2014). It was open for signature until December 31, 1974. The Convention came into force on July 1, 1975 after its ratification by 10 states. At about the same time, a law on endangered biological species, created for the protection of animals and plants threatened with extinction was signed by President Richard Nixon and entered into force on December 28, 1973.

By 2003, all the signatory states have been called its sides. By August 2006, 169 countries were considered to be the parties of the agreement. CITES Secretariat is working to establish control over the international trade in certain species. The terms of the convention require that all import, export, re-export, and introduction from the sea of certain species of animals and plants are carried out on the basis of permits and certificates. Each agreement party must introduce a state agency that oversees the licensing system, as well as at least one scientific body authorized to give expert assessment of the effectiveness of trade in particular species.

According to the CITES Secretariat, illegal trade in endangered animal species is a lucrative business. If one were to examine official statistics, it would become known that the volume of global illicit trade in rare species of animals is more than 6 billion dollars a year (Reeve 2014). Profits from crimes connected to trade in animals is second after drug and arms trafficking, and with each year the number of rare birds and animals, transported and smuggled across the border, is growing steadily.

Stating and Testing of Hypotheses

The above qualitative evidence leads me to assume that the high demand for endangered species is a consequence of the popularity of their body parts in the production of decorative and cult items and difficulties in controlling their capture and transportation. To test the hypothesis, relevant evidence on CITES violations were collected, analyzed, and published in contemporary periodicals. If the analysis is carried out correctly, some groups of people who fight for their position will be seen: non-governmental international organizations involved in the monitoring of endangered species; the authorities interested in the abolition of CITES and similar programs; representatives of the authorities, supporting environmental initiatives; smugglers and their bosses, etc.

H1: The only way to save endangered species is unconditional enforcement of provisions of CITES through regular monitoring and control by each individual country, as well as working with civilian population in order to reduce the demand for illicit goods.

Cases, Data Sources, Measures, and Controls

Data about CITES and its effort to protect biodiversity comes from Reeve’s Policing International Trade in Endangered Species: The CITES Treaty and Compliance and Couzens’ Whales and Elephants in International Conservation Law and Politics: A Comparative Study. However, these books do not depict the current situation as a whole. To investigate modern efforts of CITES policy implementation, the case on trading in ivory of African elephants was changed. To provide a clearer picture, articles from BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and CITES’ partner nature protective organizations – IFAW, AAAS, IUCN, TRAFFIC, and CITES itself were analyzed. Printed sources were also under investigation: The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal, Current Biology journal, and Nature journal.

The case of elephant ivory trading was chosen because it brought numerous controversial decisions, such as breaking CITES conditions by its participants. Additionally, this case demonstrates how efforts of the international expert community are neglected due to a traditionally high demand for forbidden goods and poor local regulations.
This paper provides a definitive review of the CITES violations in trade in ivory. Moreover, the paper draws attention to the importance of political instability on the African continen for smugglers and armed organized gang groups associated with them. It also draws attention to the interests of smuggling officials.

Case Analysis

In 1989, the states participating in CITES agreed on prohibiting elephant killings and trade in ivory. Its sale is one of the most profitable areas of the black market in many African and Asian countries. According to the approved plan, all African states should strengthen legislation in the territories inhabited by elephants and conduct appropriate outreach.

At this point, there was a significant proportion of policy decisions implementation that contributed to the fight against the extermination of elephants. In Kenya, the poaching problem is very acute. Harsh laws, high fines, and long prison sentences do not help. Kenya Wildlife Service is suffering from a shortage of people and equipment. In Uganda, environmental measures have been successfully used. The population of elephants increased from 700 to 5000 since 1980s. In Kampala, the unit to combat wildlife crime was created, and it is planned to organize joint environmental programs with neighboring countries. In Gabon, paratroopers are involved. Wildlife Service budget has significantly increased: the number of its employees is 10 times larger and reached 650 people. In Botswana, the policy of shooting to kill poachers was adopted in December, 2013. In 2014, there was enacted a total ban on hunting, which extends to all animals. In Tanzania, increased patrols have been introduced. As a result, more than a thousand people suspected of poaching were arrested at the end of 2015.

However, problems exist not only at the local but also at the global level. Since the signing of the Convention, its agreements are constantly violated by its signatories. For example, in 1997, recognizing that some African countries have been able to achieve growth of elephants population, CITES authorized Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell 50 tons of ivory to Japan. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe expressed his support for hunting elephants.

In 2007, African Elephant Status Report (IUCN) was published, which argued that the population of African elephants in the wild has decreased from 1.3 million in 1979 to 472-690 thousand in 2007 (Blanc et al. 2007). Despite this, CITES in Hague allowed Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe a one-time sale of ivory and forbade them to deal with such requests within the next nine years. Willem Venstekers, CITES Secretary-General, was directly involved in the organization of auctions, where 108 tons of ivory were sold. They brought $15.5 million, which should have been used to finance African conservation projects. However, the average official price per kilo was only $ 147, while underground traders paid $ 850 per kilogram (“Ivory auctions raise 15 million USD for elephant conservation” 2008). According to the Traffic Agency, which is monitoring the situation in this area, twice the volume of illegally extracted ivory was detected in 2008 (Black 2009). In this area, organized crime groups were more active. Thus, one can conclude that the resolution on the legal trade in elephant tusks not only does not reduce poaching, but acts as a catalyst.

In 2008, the former head of the Nature Protection Service of Kenya Richard Leakey supported the South Africa program, providing reduction of elephant population. He calls the killing of animals “a necessary part of population control” (Leakey 2008)

In 2010, the debate about the ban on ivory trade was the main topic of CITES held in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Tanzania and Zambia wished to obtain a permission to throw partial ivory stocks on the market. Kenya and Mali demanded a complete ban on the ivory trade for 20 years. Their main argument was that it is difficult to distinguish tusks of state reserves from those just harvested, so any loophole in the embargo encourages poaching.

In 2011, 23 tons of ivory were seized during the year (“2011: ‘Annus Horribilis’ for African Elephants, says TRAFFIC” 2011). According to the CITES data, poachers killed at least 25,000 African elephants in 2011. According to the data provided by the Cameroonian authorities, about two hundred African elephants were killed just during the first six months of 2012. In May, a number of African elephants were killed right in the National Park of the Republic of Cameroon ‘Bouba Njida’. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said that there have been no similar examples of such an incident in all previous years (Sissler-Bienvenu 2012).

In 2012, the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has abolished the post of the honorary president, which was held by the king of the country, Juan Carlos. The reason was the participation of the king in hunting elephants in Botswana (Roberts 2012). Despite the fact that this method of hunting is legal and regulated, 94% of the members of the meeting voted for the abolition of the post of honorary president. This case is a striking proof that CITES signatories violate it, despite holding at considerable public offices and caring for endangered species.
In September 2013, the leadership of national natural parks of Zimbabwe reported about 81 deaths due to cyanide poisoning among elephants in the country’s largest reserve – Hwange. Nine suspected poachers were arrested. In the same year, Khamis Kagasheki, the Minister of Tourism of Tanzania, proposed executing poachers at the crime scene, because one elephant is killed illegally every 15 minutes in Africa. Guardian reported that in 2009, according to various estimates, 70-80 thousand elephants inhabited each African country, and in 2013 – a half of this quantity. This statement shows how little effectiveness the agreements set out in the paper have, and how poorly implemented in practice they are. The legal framework and rangers’ powers are dwarfed in comparison with the poachers’ thirst for profit. Media noted that the unstable situation in the CAR supported poachers, who have stepped up the hunt for elephants. The CITES report states that the level of poaching decreased slightly in 2013, but more than 500 kilograms of ivory were seized, which is more than ever before.

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In 2014, CITES report said that poachers killed 20,000 elephants every year. This is more than the annual increase in the number of their population. A group of researchers published striking data in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Rhey argued that poachers have killed about 35,000 elephants in Africa since 2010 (Wittemyer et al. 2014). This statement demonstrates unprecedented poaching. Scientists came to the conclusion that between 2010 and 2013 Africa lost 7% of the population of elephants on average every year. Experts have warned that African elephants could disappear from the face of the earth in 100 years. Julian Blanc, a CITES officer, provides a less critical arguments. He said that the Botswana elephant population is growing, but in other countries of Central Africa it is declining rapidly. In that year, one more investigation was published by an international nonprofit organization Environmental Investigation Agency. It says that diplomats who visited Tanzania in 2013 bought thousands of kilograms of elephant tusks. The plane of Chinese President Xi Jinping was used to smuggle them from Africa. It should be noticed that China is a major consumer of ivory. Thus, one can conclude that officials outside Africa are interested in ivory smuggling . Later, BBC reported that 22 corpses of elephants were found in the Park wildlife Hwange in Zimbabwe that fall.

On January 13, 2016, Hong Kong authorities announced their intention to introduce a ban on the import and export of ivory. This “historic” step was welcomed by animal welfare activists. It is well know that China is a major consumer of ivory. However, its population is very superstitious and a more effective way to fight would be reducing the demand for ivory through education and persuasion to use substitutes. This year introduced one more important step in struggling with poachers. In February 2016, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor of Biology at the University of Washington Samuel Wasser said that he tracked the DNA of dead elephants (Ham 2016). Wasser concluded that ivory trade in Africa is concentrated in a few geographic locations and is under the powerful control of certain individuals. This research helped to neutralized the largest ivory dealer in West Africa and identify the largest dealer of the whole continent. According to him, a small number of malicious people control multibillion resource flows in this area. Geographicaly, there are two places – a protected area in Cameroon, Congo, and Gabon, as well as East Africa, especially Tanzania. Investigation results show that the creation of reserves is not sufficient to fight international crime bosses, who have made ivory trade their businesses. Interconnections among poachers and crime bosses explains good provision of money and weapons that they enjoy, as well as international relations. However, scientific research can help in the fight against this illegal business.

Important political support was demonstrated in Africa in 2016. This spring in the Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta personally lit a huge bonfire built of ivory weighing more than 100 ton. It included tusks of about 6700 elephants killed by poachers that were confiscated by the authorities in Kenya. According to some estimations, the market value of this ivory was more than $100 million. This once again proves that despite the difficult times for Kenyan environmental organizations, local authorities support the fight against ivory smuggling. It should also be noted that the President gave a positive example of non-use of ivory objects. It can be assumed that people who recognize his authority in Kenya and outside the country will reduce the demand, which is an effective way to combat smuggling.

Not all African politicians share the beliefs of the Kenyan leader. They do not agree to abide by the international norms. In May 2016, the government of Zimbabwe announced its intention to advocate the abolition of the international ban on the ivory trade, arguing that ordered bids will enable a more effective fight against poachers and the country will have money for environmental programs. Regular defiance of the international law by the government of this country should be noted. For example, during a lush celebration of the birthday of President Robert Mugabe elephant meat was served.

In June 2016, The Guardian reported that the administration of the US President imposed a near complete ban on the ivory trade in the country to protect wild animals from poachers in Africa (Goldenberg 2016). Simultaneously, on the eve of the 17th CITES, IFAW has expressed the need for elephants to be assigned a higher level of protection by moving the African elephant to Appendix I. It allowed consideration of all local population of this animal as a broader continental populations, which will lead to a serious warning for both ivory consumer countries and law enforcers. David Lusseau and Phyllis C. Lee published their investigation in the journal Current Biology. It showed a 95% decrease in the number of elephants over the last century. Scientists say that from 2007 to 2014, poachers killed more than 30,000 elephants a year. The total number of elephants in Africa is now less than 400 thousand (Lusseau & Lee 2016). This indicates a critical situation in which the population of elephants is reducing, in spite of the CITES annual reports and concerns of the international community.

In September 2016, CITES was held in Johannesburg. For the first time in 16 years it was held in Africa, and the main subject of discussion at this time was elephants. Convention experts agreed that the situation was catastrophic and, after a heated debate, spoke in favor of a strict ban on ivory trade on domestic markets. CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon is convinced that there is a urgent need to invest in programs to strengthen law enforcement structures to prevent poaching and endangered plants and animals smuggling. Nevertheless, African elephants were not moved to Appendix I. Such Convention results displease IFAW that rushed to predict the demise of the elephant population. It should be noted that this situation is a cause for uncertainty. Despite the fact that scientists have noted a decrease in the total population of African elephants, government and scientists in particular countries state that there is an increase in the local population that seek permission to shoot elephants.

Discussion and Conclusion

Despite the coordinated efforts of the international community to combat illicit trade in wildlife resources such as ivory, this threat is still relevant, because the demand is high and one can make good money. Many governments, intergovernmental organizations, and law enforcement agencies, as well as non-governmental groups on the protection of nature are working to put an end to the illegal trade in ivory.

Local hunter services and law enforcement agencies are often unable to withstand the poachers, who are armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and grenade launchers, as well as criminal gangs who bribe officials to facilitate the transportation of parts of slaughtered animals across borders. Authorities warn that in some countries the revenues from poached wildlife are likely to go for the purchase of arms and ammunition, which leads to an escalation of regional conflicts. It is possible but very difficult to accurately track the population of these animals by analyzing DNA, because illegal trade reaches crisis proportions.

Nevertheless, it should be recognized that the most effective method to reduce the volume of illegal wildlife trade and its devastating effects is to suppress consumer demand for these products. Authorities report that strong demand for certain products derived from wildlife resources is the main stimulus for the development of this illegal trade. In addition, the demand is caused by such factors as economic incentives, cultural or religious practices, as well as a simple lack of knowledge of the status of consumers. Abandoning traditional practices and counteracting social pressure is not easy, but otherwise the consequences could be disastrous in the long run.