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Elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia Protected Area located in the Kunene region, 400 km north of the capital Windhoek. MARTIN OFFICE / AFP

This Saturday, August 17 in Geneva, Switzerland, politicians and conservation experts gather for twelve days of talks to try to reinforce the rules of trade in ivory, rhinoceros horns and other threatened plant and animal species extinction.

For twelve days in Geneva, Switzerland, thousands of delegates from more than 180 countries will discuss 56 proposals to change the level of protection afforded to wild animals and plants through the Convention on International Trade in Wildlife and Wildlife Species. wild flora threatened with extinction ( Cites ). This treaty, created more than 40 years ago, sets the rules for the international trade of more than 35,000 species of wild fauna and flora . It also has a mechanism that allows it to impose sanctions on countries that do not respect these rules.

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary General of Cites, said the conference would " focus on strengthening existing rules and standards, while expanding the benefits of the CITES regime to new plants and new animals threatened by human beings ". This meeting comes after the publication of a UN report in May 2019 announcing that a million species were threatened with extinction.

Several proposals on elephants

The damage caused to many species by poaching and illegal trade will be under the spotlight during the meeting, as will the challenges posed by wildlife crime on the internet. This time again, the conference, which meets every three years, will consider several proposals concerning African elephants . After decades of poaching that pushed the elephant population from several million in the mid-twentieth century to some 400,000 in 2015, the ivory trade was virtually banned in 1989.

However, several countries in southern Africa, where elephant populations are " healthy and well managed ", are demanding the right to sell registered ivory stocks owned by these governments. They say that this could satisfy the demand, especially from Asia, which encourages poaching, and thus raise funds for conservation programs. Animal advocates, on the other hand, say that previous ivory stock-sale experiences have actually boosted demand and encouraged poaching, because of the difficulty in distinguishing between legally harvested defenses and others. " We must not repeat this when the crisis created by poaching is still so serious, " said AFP Matthew Collis, head of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Fight against the networks of traffickers

Several states in Central, West and East Africa are advocating for all elephant populations on the continent, including those in southern Africa, to be transferred to the most protected Appendix I, which categorically prohibits any sale of ivory. Another of the 56 proposals discussed at the summit of the Cites is also aimed at combating the networks of traffickers, who are trying to get elephant ivory for mammoth ivory, a species extinct for thousands of years . In order to stop this traffic, Israel is proposing to include the woolly mammoth in Appendix II so that its trade is controlled. None of the proposals, however, should obtain the required two-thirds majority for adoption.

White rhinos, which have been decimated by intensive poaching, are also on the agenda, with Swaziland's request to sell an existing stock of 330 kg of horn. Matthew Collis considers that such authorization would be " disastrous " and recalls that currently the trade in rhinoceros horn is prohibited. For the first time, delegates will look into the case of giraffes , whose populations have declined by some 40% over the last three decades.

Decline of giraffes

Several African countries are proposing to include this animal in Appendix II as a precautionary measure, in order to trace and regulate the sale of parts of this species. But the CITES Secretariat believes that the decline in giraffes is due more to habitat loss than to trade. In addition, three proposals requesting the inclusion in Appendix II of 18 species belonging to three families of sharks and rays are supported by dozens of countries, which wish to regulate their intensive fishing.

( with AFP )