The CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora after much wrangling agreed to extend protection to several marine species not previously covered by the treaty.

There are more than 3,500 species that are CITES listed, which means any country that has not signed the treaty would find virtually impossible to legally trade in them. The convention, which takes place every three years in Geneva, tries to balance conservation with the needs of trade and business.

The trade is rosewood, which is the most trafficked product in terms of value and volume, was banned for the first time, except for wood for finished musical instruments. Most of the illegal trade in rosewood is fuelled by the Chinese replica antique furniture industry.

This year 18 threatened species of sharks and rays made it onto the protected list including wedgefishes, guitarfishes, and mako sharks.

A shocking 270 million sharks are killed every year, according to estimates by the Pew Trust, an NGO which campaigns to inform the public about environmental concerns.

China and Japan, where shark fin soup is often found on the menu, as well as Malaysia and New Zealand tried to block the ban on trading in sharks but were outvoted.

Japan, which recently pulled out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resumed the commercial hunting of the creatures, argued that CITES should stick to land species. Japan also claimed that it uses its fisheries sustainably.

But the fact is that some species of shark are at risk of becoming extinct. The mako shark, for example, is under a lot of pressure virtually everywhere from the North Pacific to the Mediterranean.

African Impasse

There was also intense disagreement in Africa about how to manage their wildlife. The nations of the South African Development Coalition (SADC) which includes Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Zambia wanted to be allowed to sell off their stockpiles of ivory and export giraffe body parts to raise funds for conservation programmes.

However, they lost out to the 32 countries of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), which is led by Kenya, who argued that even a limited trade fuels poaching and that allowing these countries to sell off their ivory stockpiles would make it more difficult to protect their own wildlife populations.

“In our country, for instance, elephants — and wildlife for that matter — form the bedrock of our tourism industry,” Joseph Boinnet, chief administrative secretary of Kenya’s tourism and wildlife ministry and head of Kenya’s negotiating team at CITES, told DW.

The decision did not go down well with the countries from southern Africa. Munesu Munodawafa, head of the Zimbabwean delegation, said that the SADC countries should be recognised for their successes in conservation, as this is where the majority of African elephants live.

“If you look at the African coalition, there are countries there that have zero elephants and they have come to the stage and they preach to the world that they have done better than us?” said Munesu Munodawafa.

Adding that, “CITES is no longer a science based-institution.”

Ban on Many Exotic Pets

Trade in a further 18 species that have become exotic pets was also banned. A recent otter craze in Japan and Indonesia, which has even seen otter cafés springing up where visitors can take a selfie with an otter, has led to an increase in poaching of the animals and a marked decline in their numbers.

“It’s really a false narrative and a death sentence for these otters. It’s improper nutrition, improper environment. And really is a like on your Instagram worth the life of an otter?” said Cassandra Koenen, an expert in exotic pets at World Animal Protection.

Matt Collis, policy director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said that most of the conflict at this year’s CITES was because the treaty was becoming less about trade and more about conservation.

“Some of those want to use and trade in wildlife and others want to see it protected. Some of these issues are really emblematic of that,” he said.

Edward Cowley