CoP17 deemed a “game changer” for wildlife

CoP17 logo

As the South African sun set on the summit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, there was a positive air amongst the 2500 delegates about the future of the world’s wildlife.

“The most critical meeting in the 43-year history of CITES has delivered for the world’s wildlife. CoP17 is a game changer for the planet’s most vulnerable wild animals and plants,” enthused John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES.

Turning the tide for wildlife

CITES is an international agreement that countries adhere to voluntarily. Member countries are known as Parties and the CITES regulations become legally binding. The triennial CITES #CoP17 two-week summit which ran from 24th September to 4th October, was the largest event of its kind. Over 60 species-listing proposals submitted by 64 countries were discussed and negotiated by representatives from 152 governments.

The outcome is the adoption of a suite of ground-breaking decisions on regulating legal, sustainable and traceable trade in wildlife. This included strengthened actions to combat illicit wildlife trafficking, higher protection to entire groups of species, targeted demand reduction strategies for illegally traded wildlife, and agreement on closer engagement with rural communities.


Queen Conch – Daniel Neal, CA, US under CC licence


The event was described by John E. Scanlon as one that “will be remembered as a point in history when the tide turned in favour of ensuring the survival of our most vulnerable wildlife.”

Targeting the threats head-on

Aquilaria sinensis leaves. The Aquilaria genus is one of the principal producers of the resin-suffused agarwood – Chong Fat, own work under CC licence

Illegal and unsustainable trade is a huge threat to global wildlife. So it is excellent news that the attending governments were united in providing greater protection to a host of threatened species and by ramping up efforts to address increasing levels of poaching and wildlife trafficking.

“With much of the world’s wildlife threatened by poaching and unsustainable trade, governments had to take bold action here in Johannesburg and they did. This conference can only be viewed as a major success for wildlife conservation,” said Theressa Frantz, WWF Co-head of Delegation to CITES CoP17.

“The world not only united behind the urgent need to protect threatened species, ranging from devil rays to rosewood trees, but also to bolster implementation and enforcement measures to ensure that trade regulations amount to more than ‘paper protection’,” added Frantz.

Protecting an expanding list of species

Amongst the key outputs from the summit, which saw multiple new animals and plants added to CITES Appendices for the first time, and hence come under CITES trade controls, were:

  • The adoption of global bans on trade in pangolins and African grey parrots.
  • The introduction of stricter regulations on the trade in silky and thresher sharks and devil rays.
  • Increasing protection for all species of rosewood tree.
  • A vote to maintain the international ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn.


Humphead wrasse – Taro Taylor from Sydney, Australia – Big Fish, under CC licence

Other resolutions were agreed affecting the helmeted hornbill, saiga antelope, snakes, queen conch, humphead wrasse, African lion, cheetah and African wild dog; as well as a large range of timber species, such as bubinga, the African cherry and agarwood.

John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General said: “CoP17 adopted decisions that saw wildlife firmly embedded in the agendas of global enforcement, development and financing agencies that have the capacity and technical expertise to help ensure implementation of the Convention on the front lines, where it matters most – with the CITES management and scientific authorities, as well as customs officials, rural communities, businesses, police, prosecutors and park rangers.


“Notable successes included decisions to bring new marine and timber species under CITES trade controls, continuing a trend from CoP16 where countries turned to CITES to assist them along the path to sustainability in oceans and forests. It was not just the well-known species that were on the agenda, the pangolin and many lesser known species also came under the spotlight.”

Summit over – now the work begins

Equally important to the above were resolutions and decisions on youth engagement in CITES and on rural community engagement, providing a greater voice for local people in managing wildlife.

“It was here in Johannesburg that rural community voices and the voice of the world’s youth came into the heart of the meeting room to be heard by decision makers from across the world” concluded Scanlon.


Grey parrot
African grey parrot – © Paul McGuire


As it is only now that the summit has ended that resolutions and decisions need to be acted upon, the final word is left to WWF’s Theressa Frantz, “This was the largest and most ambitious CITES conference, and in many ways the most successful. Countries around the world must now turn the tough talk we have heard here in Johannesburg into tough measures on the ground.”

The 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention CoP18 will be held in 2019 in Sri Lanka.


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