BY CRAIG HOOVER
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species—recently wrapped up the nineteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP19) in Panama City, Panama.
I was honored to lead an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) delegation to Panama to engage on matters that impact zoos and aquariums, and to help advance critical conservation issues that are important to our community.
CITES Parties took bold actions to add protections for numerous species and to strengthen conservation efforts on several important issues. Below are some of the highlights from CoP19:
Sharks and Rays: Marine species featured prominently on the agenda, and many were added to CITES Appendix II, which allows for but strictly regulates commercial trade. These listings include an historic win for 54 species of requiem sharks, 37 additional species of guitarfishes, six species of sea cucumber, and South American freshwater stingrays. Although listing commercially exploited sharks remains controversial, it’s clear that CITES Parties are increasingly supportive of using CITES controls to regulate trade in these species.
Freshwater Turtles: The United States is not only a significant consumer, but also supplier, of illegally traded wildlife. CITES Parties agreed to list U.S.-native map turtles, common and alligator snapping turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, and softshell turtles in Appendix II, to reduce the threat of illegal and unsustainable trade. These turtles are threatened by habitat loss, overharvesting for the international pet trade, and other pressures, so these new protections will be critical to their success in the wild.
Songbirds: The global songbird trade is causing population declines, with some species experiencing dramatic losses. We were pleased that CITES Parties agreed to include white-rumped shama in Appendix II and “uplist” straw-headed bulbul from Appendix II to Appendix I, which prohibits commercial trade. Both species are popular Asian songbirds that are commonly exploited for the pet trade. CITES Parties also approved a proposal to expand and continue efforts to investigate the global songbird trade, including a new study to better understand the scope and scale of the trade.
Frogs: CITES Parties approved proposals to list glass frogs and lemur leaf frogs in Appendix II. Frogs face many challenges in the wild, including habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, climate change, and collection for the exotic pet trade, so this new protection will assure that any trade is legal and sustainable.
Elephants and Rhinos: AZA was pleased to see Parties reject proposals regarding elephants and rhinos that could have re-opened commercial trade in ivory and rhino horn, threatening the survival of these iconic species.
Wildlife Trafficking: CITES Parties agreed to continue and expand efforts to reduce the persistent market demand that drives illegal trade, sharing responsibility for solving these challenges between both source and destination (market) countries. These actions will help Parties conduct targeted demand reduction efforts which AZA believes should be part of any strategy to combat wildlife trafficking.
Zoonotic Disease: CITES Parties also took action to address the risks of zoonotic disease spillover, affirming CITES’ role in this important biodiversity and human and animal health issue.
Downlistings: CITES Parties recognized several species that have been prohibited from commercial trade for years have begun to recover, in part because of CITES protections. We celebrate the downlisting of species such as the Aleutian cackling goose, Mexican prairie dog, Puerto Rican boa, and saltwater crocodile. These successes inspire us to continue working together so that legal and well-regulated trade helps both people and wildlife thrive.
The zoo and aquarium community has actively participated in CITES for decades, but never with the level of participation we had at CoP19. With more than 30 people from different associations and organizations, active participation in working groups, and hosting or co-hosting several side events, we were more engaged than ever. We are committed to this treaty, and to serving it.
As I stated in my closing remarks (made on behalf of the AZA, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and Taronga Conservation Society),
“…THOUGH WE ARE HERE TO REPRESENT OUR ORGANIZATIONS, MORE IMPORTANTLY, WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT THE CITES PARTIES, AND TO ADVANCE CONSERVATION. TO SHARE OUR EXPERTISE IN FIELD CONSERVATION, WILDLIFE RESEARCH, ANIMAL CARE, TAXONOMY, WILDLIFE POLICY AND WILDLIFE LAW … WE STAND READY TO SUPPORT THE ANIMALS COMMITTEE, STANDING COMMITTEE, THE SECRETARIAT, AND THE CITES PARTIES TO ADVANCE THESE IMPORTANT OUTCOMES OF COP19. AS YOU KNOW, THE END OF A COP IS ALSO A BEGINNING OF IMPORTANT CONSERVATION WORK TO COME. WE ARE HERE TO SERVE.”
CRAIG HOOVER IS THE EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS