The 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—known as CITES—will meet November 14-25 in Panama City, Panama, where delegates from the 184 member countries will consider 52 proposals to increase or decrease protections for 600 species of wild animals and plants. Key issues on the table include increasing protections for hippos, elephants, Australian pygmy blue tongue skink, glass frogs and sharks, and amending annual leopard trophy export quotas.  

Humane Society International experts will be attending the meeting to lobby countries to support proposals that could help ensure species are not pushed further toward the brink of extinction by overexploitation through international trade in their parts and products. The HSI delegation will be available for comment throughout the proceedings.   

Key species listing and other proposals to be discussed include:  

Hippos: Ten African countries propose to include the common hippopotamus in Appendix I of CITES, which would effectively prohibit international commercial trade in hippo parts and products. Hippos are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for their meat and ivory, and they continue to be targeted for commercial trade in ivory, skins and trophies, including by poachers. Current legal and illegal exploitation levels are predicted to lead to wild population declines, indicating the need to enact a higher level of protection for this species. HSI released an undercover investigation earlier this year into the robust sale of hippo parts in the U.S 

Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for HSI, said: “Hippos are an iconic African species, yet the scale of the international trade in their parts and products such as tusks, teeth, skins, skulls and trophies is shocking. We urge CITES Parties to adopt this proposal to ensure that this commercial trade ends. This pointless industry of selling animal parts, along with other threats facing hippos, is pushing these incredible animals to the brink of extinction.” 

Sharks: There are three proposals to list families of sharks and related species on Appendix II. The proposals are to list requiem sharks (including blue shark, the most caught shark in the world, grey reef sharks, and blacktip reef sharks), hammerhead sharks and guitarfishes, which are related to sharks. All of these species have low reproductive output and several species in each species group are highly endangered. Fins are the primary products in trade derived from the endangered members of these families. As these fins are practically indistinguishable from those of other species, their families should be included in Appendix II so that international trade can be monitored to ensure it is sustainable and legal. Requiem sharks are those most commonly found in the international shark fin trade, which means this cruel industry will finally be brought under regulatory control.

Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist for HSI Australia, said: “Sharks are one of the most widely traded of all animal groups, with catches reaching into the hundreds of millions every year. Knowing what we know about the importance of these animals to marine ecosystems, it is absolutely critical that their capture and trade is responsibly managed, monitored and regulated. The loss of shark populations is already having unforeseen deleterious impacts on ocean ecosystems we need for food, livelihoods and climate regulation. If the world’s oceans are to continue to sustain and support us, we need healthy, functioning shark populations. The first step to securing that is the international cooperation that would be achieved with these listings.

Rebecca Regnery, senior director of wildlife for HSI, said: “Several shark and guitarfish species have seen declines in their wild populations of up to 70-90%. It is unconscionable that trade in fins from these imperiled families is not monitored to ensure its legality or sustainability, especially since upward of 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. We urge CITES Parties to adopt the proposals to list requiem sharks, hammerheads and guitarfishes on Appendix II before it is too late.” 

Leopard trophy hunting quotas: Although the leopard is threatened with extinction and trophy hunting is one of the major threats to its survival, CITES Parties have set export quotas for 12 countries that allow for the annual export of up to 2,648 leopard trophies or skins. These controversial export quotas are not based on science. Furthermore, trophy hunting has been shown to cause population declines. Two countries with such quotas, Kenya and Malawi, are asking for their quotas to be removed, while Ethiopia is asking for its annual quota to be reduced from 500 to 20 leopards. However, this leaves leopards in the remaining nine countries in the crosshairs, including two countries (Tanzania and Zimbabwe) with an outrageous annual export quota of 500 leopards each.  

Southern white rhino and African elephant proposals: HSI is urging countries to oppose a dangerous proposal that would reduce CITES protection for southern white rhinos in Namibia, which are under severe threat due to poaching for rhino horn. If adopted, the proposal would ease control over international trade in hunting trophies of the species. In addition, HSI is supporting a proposal to increase CITES protection of African elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, which would increase regulation of international trade in hunting trophies. Given the serious and long-lasting impacts of trophy hunting on species survival, it is imperative that member countries restrict the trade world-wide in hunting trophies of species listed under this Convention.

Sarah Veatch, director of wildlife policy for HSI, said: “CITES is the international oversight authority for trade between member countries in hunting trophies of leopards, elephants, rhinos, lions and others. As highly sought-after trophies, it is imperative that members take a precautionary approach here. Quotas based on outdated data, unreliable data or inaccurate methods are unacceptable and should be invalidated. CITES Parties have the opportunity to give these species the necessary protections and oversight to avoid overexploitation, and we urge them act with prudence before we reach a point of no return.”  

Pygmy Blue Tongue Skink: The Endangered pygmy blue tongue skink has been nominated by the Australian Government for an Appendix I CITES listing. Due to its small size and brilliant blue tongue, the skink is a popular fixture in the global live pet trade, which is now threatening the remaining native population, found only in limited parts of South Australia. 

Glass frogsFourteen countries in Central and South America are proposing to include the family of glass frogs in Appendix II of CITES. Twelve members of this family are highly threatened, but it is nearly impossible to distinguish them from other, less threatened species, indicating the need to enact protection for all glass frogs. Listing them on Appendix II of the Convention would provide crucial monitoring and put measures in place to help ensure that future trade is legal and sustainable. 

Grettel Delgadillo, deputy director, HSI Latin America, said: “Glass frogs, with their translucent skin, are an amazing family of species. Sadly that is what has attracted the attention of the pet traders, who will go as far as smuggling live frogs out of Central and South America to sell them. It is crucial that CITES Parties adopt this proposal to stem the illegal trade in these incredible frogs and put in place critical monitoring of legal trade to prevent overexploitation by the pet industry.”  

Members of the Humane Society International delegation to CITES include: 

  • Jeff Flocken, HSI president 
  • Rebecca Regnery, HSI senior director wildlife, U.S. 
  • Madison Miketa, HSI wildlife scientist, U.S. 
  • Sarah Veatch, HSI director, wildlife policy, U.S. 
  • Sophie Nazeri, HSI wildlife program coordinator, U.S. 
  • Grettel Delgadillo, deputy director, HSI/Latin America, Costa Rica 
  • Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist, HSI Australia 
  • Mai Nguyen, wildlife program manager, HSI in Viet Nam  
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