The global treaty charged with ensuring wildlife is not commercially exploited to extinction fell short of putting the breaks on poaching of elephants, tigers, and rhinos at its biannual meeting that closes today in Bangkok.
Poaching and trafficking of elephants, tigers and rhinos is at crisis levels, yet domestic trade is still allowed and international trade in the body parts of these critically endangered animals is still being negotiated.
“Some experts and governments are sending mixed messages to consumers, traders, and the law enforcement community,” said Steven Galster of FREELAND. “They are advocating for demand reduction efforts on one hand, while discussing legalisation of trade in endangered species on the other. It's like putting water on one side of the fire of extinction, and gas on the other.
The bans on international commercial trade in products made from elephants, rhinos and tigers initially worked well, allowing all three species to rebound in wild. Unfortunately, approval and continued negotiations of so-called “limited legal trade” in elephants and rhinos has rekindled what had been a dying market for ivory and rhino horn. Trade in tiger skins and bones is also still going on in China, permitting legal trade in skins from captive-bred tigers to supply a growing luxury market for exotic home décor.
“Trade bans work – unless they are sabotaged,” said Avinash Basker of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. In Basker’s home country India, the demand for elephant ivory for use in making religious items and wedding bangles has been drastically reduced thanks to the government’s laws, law enforcement and public-outreach efforts.
The mixed messages coming out of the Bangkok meeting confuse consumers and encourage criminals, putting elephants, rhinos, tigers and the people who protect them in grave danger. “Criminals all along the supply chain, from poachers to smugglers to retailers, are watching what happens here,” said Mary Rice of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. “It is time for this treaty to get back to its founding precautions and to stop experimenting with the fate of endangered wildlife.”