So far, aside from a couple of quick hits about the ivory ban (good news) and the legal trade in rhino horn (not so good), the news from the once-every-three-years wildlife forum in Geneva has been a bit dry.
That may change in the next few days, as the meeting of the UN Conference of Parties (CoP18) draws to a close in midweek (Aug. 28). That’s because, much like Supreme Court decisions, the most contentious decisions are saved for last.
What that may mean this time is anyone’s guess, as the burning of the Amazon rainforest and catastrophic ice melt in Greenland have thrust news about conservation and the environment to the top of the mainstream news agenda.
The very name “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” is enough to make one’s eyes glaze over, though the message out of Geneva in the past couple of days has been an easy sell: Environmental protections have been extended to sharks and rays, which not everyone likes, and giraffes, which nearly everyone does.
(And, yes, in one of the more unpleasant surprises of the past three years since the last time CITES met, in Johannesburg, giraffes are in trouble, believe it or not, in no small part because of the usual suspects: Habitat loss through rapidly expanding farming by humans and illegal hunting for their meat, skins and tails. Three of the currently recognized nine subspecies have been listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN Red List.)
The 18 species of sharks and rays now listed on CITES’ Appendix II index of endangered species includes two species of mako sharks and six species of guitarfish.
Appendices I, II and III are lists of endangered species accorded different levels of protection
based on how exploited they are. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction — for now — but may become so unless their trade is closely watched.
Although the oceans are vast, few if any areas of our blue planet remain untouched by human hands. Of the approximately 100 species of finned fish sought after by the international fishing industry, a third are threatened with extinction.
All but 15 of the world’s 195 countries are represented at the wildlife conference.
Business as usual “is no longer an option,” Ivonne Higuero, CITES’ secretary-general, told delegates at the conference’s opening, 10 days ago. “The rate of wildlife extinction is accelerating.”
Experts — who, oddly enough, don’t count too many populist leaders among their number — affirm that as many as a million plant and animal species are now threatened, Higuero added.
The #StopVotingForAssholes lobby, of which I’m a charter member, clearly has its work cut out for it.
The CITES conference comes just days after the Trump administration announced plans to roll back protections in the US Endangered Species Act. Most attendees at the conference know the US move is calculated more for a domestic audience than anyone in the international trade community, but still, it doesn’t help, does it?
Bottom line: Anyone who knows anything about science and the environment, let alone the future of the entire planet, knows the best decisions — in fact, the only decisions worth making — are those based on science, not political or other considerations.
For all the easy, cheap dismissal of conservationists and climate activists as snowflakes and bunny huggers, reason wins over emotion any time science is involved. That simple, really.