Abronia graminea, © Adam G Clause

A Successful Year at CITES!

International meeting votes to protect many imperiled species from overexploitation in global wildlife trade.

It’s been a busy few weeks for our international team, just back from the CITES Conference of the Parties (COP) in South Africa.

A big part of our work year-round is helping countries create proposals to present at the next CITES meeting, and gather support for them. Months, even years of work go into these proposals to better protect species native to the Americas from the often devastating demands of wildlife trade — but it’s not until the COP that we get to see if they are accepted.

For the past several months, we’ve been sharing with you many of the proposals our team has been working on. Now the votes are in!

African grey parrot, © Thomas Quine

African grey parrots – Win!

With tens of thousands of these birds captured and exported for the pet trade every year, and tens of thousands more dying in the attempt, many of us saw the proposal to protect the African grey parrot as the last, best chance to keep the species from extinction. So we are thrilled to report that after a great deal of work, the proposal to list African grey parrots under Appendix I was adopted! This appendix offers the highest level of protection that CITES can give, and means that nearly all trade in the species will be prohibited — a fantastic step forward for these beleaguered birds.

Arboreal alligator lizards – Win!

In the cloud forests of Mexico and Central America, several species of rare, tree-dwelling lizards are being driven towards extinction. These critically endangered endemic species are being taken from their habitats for the pet trade in the U.S. and Europe, where they are sold for exorbitant prices. Thankfully, the proposals that we helped Mexico and Guatemala to put forward to better protect these species were both successful! All 29 species in Mexico are listed under Appendix II, and five species from Guatemala were given the extra protection of listing under Appendix I. We’ll be continuing to work with Mexico to gather support for more species to be moved to Appendix I.

Madagascar tomato frog, © Brian GratwickeAmphibians – A Mixed Bag

We went to bat for several species of amphibians at CITES this year, including four frogs and a newt. All were in serious trouble thanks to high demand for them in the wildlife trade, whether as pets, food, medicine or other products.

The incredibly rare Titicaca water frog – which is found in just one lake in the entire world – is now listed under CITES Appendix I! With almost all trade in this species now prohibited, we may actually stand a chance at seeing the Titicaca water frog survive for future generations.

Proposals for the Hong Kong newt, false tomato frog, and all three species of burrowing frogs were also adopted by consensus, placing these species on Appendix II to better regulate their trade and protect these animals from overexploitation. Unfortunately, the proposal for the Madagascar tomato frog also passed, moving this species from Appendix I to Appendix II before the species is really ready to support increased trade.

Thresher shark, © Bearacreative/istockphotoThresher sharks – Win!

There are a number of threats facing thresher sharks, but all three species are under extreme pressure from overharvesting for international trade. Shark proposals have historically been a great challenge, but we worked hard to gather support for a few this year. Happily, the proposal to place thresher sharks in CITES Appendix II passed with more than 100 nations voting in support!

Silky Sharks – Win!

Similar to thresher sharks, silkies have had a long road to protection under CITES, and face the same threat of overfishing, targeted for their distinctive fins. In fact, this shark is one of the top three species in the global fin trade, with up to 1.5 million fins bought and sold each year from this species alone! We are thrilled to report that the proposal to list silky sharks under CITES Appendix II also passed, again with an unprecedented show of support for our finned friends!

Ocellate river stingray (captive), © Steven G. JohnsonFreshwater Rays – Withdrawn

Sadly, without enough support to move it forward, the proposal to list freshwater rays under CITES Appendix II was withdrawn. That’s not great news for these imperiled creatures, but the benefit of withdrawing the proposal instead of seeing it voted down is that we can work to gather more support for it, and to present it again with more allies from more countries at the next Conference of the Parties.

Devil Rays – Win!

These animals are harvested by the thousands for their gill plates – the part of the body they use to filter food from the water. Despite declining populations, the numbers of devil ray gill plates on the market have tripled in just the last three years. A remarkable 23 countries came together to propose listing all nine species of devil rays under Appendix II to protect them from the demands of unregulated trade, and we are very happy to say the proposal passed with 110 nations voting in support!

Illegal logging of rosewoodRosewood trees – Win!

We worked with several nations on a proposal to list the entire genus of rosewood trees (Dalbergia) under Appendix II. The sheer scale of the rosewood trade is immense, costing healthy trees, valuable wildlife habitat, and human lives. But we are very happy to say the proposal was adopted! More than 300 species of rosewood trees, living in more than 100 countries worldwide, are that much safer from the demands of unregulated trade.

Reducing Demand for Wildlife Products – Win!

Another resolution our team worked hard on takes aim at reducing the demand for wildlife trafficking wherever there is a market for it in any of the 183 nations that have signed on to CITES. It asks the governments of those countries to take clear, proactive steps to research where the demand for these products is coming from within their borders, and launch campaigns to raise awareness of the impacts these products have on wildlife. This proposal was also adopted with a wide range of support.

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