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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
Much of the world’s iconic wildlife is under threat from poaching, illegal, and unsustainable trade. That’s why in November, global policymakers met in Panama City to take bold actions and make decisions that help species most at risk. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—a global agreement among governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat—helps ensure that the trade of a listed species won’t negatively impact that species’ population, and is regulated, monitored, and sometimes, outright banned. Countries meet every three years to review progress, consider new proposals, and discuss other steps toward protecting at-risk wildlife.
This year’s conference concluded with several positives for wildlife with new and renewed global protections against poaching, illegal, and unsustainable trade in wild animals and plants that could help reverse trends driving global biodiversity loss. Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
A new series of decisions were approved for increased activity on eliminating jaguar poaching, trafficking, and online trade. This heavily depends on enhanced stakeholder engagement and collaboration; the establishment of conservation corridors; increased investments into jaguar conservation work, which includes jaguar habitat; and awareness raising efforts about the importance of this apex predator, its ecological role, and the threats it faces. In addition to all of this, a long-term system for monitoring illegal activity from the killing and trade of jaguars and other factors that impact their conservation will be established.
This year’s conference will forever be a landmark moment for sharks and rays. Before the start of the conference, only 20% of these species were protected under the Convention. Now, around 90% of all internationally traded shark and ray species can only be permitted if their stocks are not endangered. This includes 54 species of requiem sharks, six species of hammerhead sharks, and 37 species of guitarfish, one of the most endangered groups of rays. Sharks and rays are often traded for their fins and meat. This means that these species will be protected from the immense pressure of unregulated trade.
Six out of the seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction. And in a significant win for these ancient creatures, member states agreed to adopt a new resolution that would commit governments to ensure they are prioritizing tackling the illegal trade of sea turtles, with a significant increase in law enforcement through new DNA tracking technologies and the use of forensics.
To help these efforts, the world’s first global database of marine turtle DNA, ShellBank, was launched at CITES and will allow researchers to better track and protect sea turtles by matching the DNA of a seized product—such as eggs or tortoiseshell trinkets—to different poaching hotspots and identify turtle populations that are most at risk.
New regulations on trade in tropical songbirds were also a positive and welcome step in the right direction. There was strong consensus that funding should be prioritized to carry out relevant research on the global trade in songbirds and invest in programs that raise awareness about the illegal songbird trade.
The conference also saw more progress on decisions relating to tropical trees. Over 140 tropical tree species were added to the Convention for increased protection which will only allow export of their timber if it is certified as legal and sustainable. While this is a win in many respects, the delayed implementation of these decisions for some of these proposals is worrisome. The two years imposed before these protections are put into place for two groups of Latin American tree species, cumaru and trumpet trees, opens a dangerous window of risk for the overexploitation of these species and remains an issue of concern.
Another silver lining from the conference was the adoption of a resolution that recognizes the importance of ensuring gender equality and mainstreaming in the Convention. This now builds the roadmap for the development of various new measures that will put CITES on a positive path towards further success, by improving living conditions and governance, reducing conflict and social inequalities, and eradicating gender-based violence related to legal and illegal international trade in wildlife. At the core of all this work is people, so the recognition that diversity is an important component of addressing these issues to help protect wildlife is a major win and cause for celebration.
While progress was certainly made for many wildlife species, there are still those that got the shorter end of the stick when it comes to renewed action and attention. One major missed opportunity at CITES was the slow-paced efforts to protect the world’s largest cats: tigers. And given that this conference took place during the Lunar Year of the Tiger, this especially felt like a disappointing moment. We saw little urgency to enforce actions against poaching and illegal trade or to reduce demand to address the scale of this threat to tigers.
Regardless, for tigers, jaguars, sharks, and others, what was universally clear was that many animals continue to urgently need protection, and we’re only going to be able to accomplish this by working together.