Believe it or not, African lions were making news in Switzerland last week. Though Defenders mostly focuses on domestic species that need our help, we also have a lean and mean team of international conservation experts that work hard to save imperiled species that not only need protection in the US but also around the globe. And last week, Defenders’ International Counsel, Alejandra Goyenechea, traveled to Geneva to help make a case for protecting species that are at risk due to the global wildlife trade.
Alejandra attended the 25th meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This body of scientific experts provides advice and guidance to the Conference of the Parties, working groups and the Secretariat, which are ultimately responsible for enacting laws to protect imperiled wildlife from exploitation through international trade. Defenders was there to advocate for international trade that does not affect the survival of imperiled species, such as lions, sharks and frogs.
We don’t hear about it as often in the United States, but countless species are farmed, hunted or trapped and then shipped across borders as food, trophies, pets and medicinal products. Many of these practices are extremely unsustainable and threaten not only the populations that are being harvested, but also the native species where the animals are imported. Exotic pets, for example, are often released into the wild when their owners can no longer care for them. Some species, like Burmese pythons and Asian bull frogs go on to destroy and displace native species that are ill-equipped to defend themselves against the foreign invaders.
This year, the focus of the meeting was on fish and reptile leathers used for luxury goods. But several other species were being reviewed for the impacts of trade, including:
- Scaphiophryne gottlebei, an endangered native frog from Madagascar;
- Cryptophyllates azureiventris, an endangered frog from Peru;
- Mantella species, some endangered and some critically endangered frogs, native to Madagascar and over-exploited for the international pet trade;
- Dendrobates pumilio from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.
These species are in decline and threatened by international trade, but no course of action has yet been decided on how to best protect them.
Perhaps the biggest news of the week, however, was a decision to expedite the review of African lion populations. Kenya volunteered to lead that effort, which is very promising since the Kenyan government has so far done the most to protect their dwindling populations of lions. Many other African nations are still struggling to combat poaching, poisoning and unsustainable hunting of lions within their borders. Scientists estimate there are fewer than 40,000 African lions remaining, maybe as few as 23,000, so taking swift action is absolutely necessary to saving the species from extinction.