March 3, 1973: Rescue for ocelot and elephant - the endangered species protection agreement turns 50

On March 3rd it will be exactly 50 years since the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was launched.

March 3, 1973: Rescue for ocelot and elephant - the endangered species protection agreement turns 50

On March 3rd it will be exactly 50 years since the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was launched. The agreement, to which 183 countries worldwide belong to date, has set itself the goal of protecting animals and plants that are threatened by international trade. Hence the name of the treaty: "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" – or CITES for short.

"African elephants, ocelots, humpback whales and scarlet macaws would probably have been exterminated today if CITES hadn't pulled the ripcord," Sandra Altherr from the organization Pro Wildlife summed up in an interview with the German Press Agency.

However, biodiversity is still declining worldwide. And not only because furs and ivory are being traded – illegally – but also because the habitats of animals and plants are being destroyed. CITES can successfully counter the trade threat. Environmentalists are therefore calling for more commitment from the international community on the occasion of the organization's anniversary.

According to the CITES secretariat, more financial incentives are needed to encourage residents to protect the species in their area. Above all, companies that benefit from trading in wood, fragrances or leather should be asked to pay more, said CITES Secretary General Ivonne Higuero in an interview with the German Press Agency in Geneva. In addition, governments must prevent poaching and smuggling more consistently.

"The cosmetics and healthcare industries, the luxury goods industry, timber companies - everyone must invest more in sustainability," Higuero demanded. She is in conversation with many about it. "Those using the resources and benefiting from them should pay more." It is about direct support for the local people. Most of the species to be protected are found in the poorest countries in the world. Governments should also give more money: "If the whole world benefits from species protection, everyone should pay."

Around 40,000 animal and plant species are now listed in the annexes to the agreement. Commercial trade in specimens from the wild is then either prohibited or only possible with a license if species protection is guaranteed. The lists are constantly being added to, and last year dozens of shark and ray species were added. Sea turtles, whales, rhinos, orchids and certain tree species are also listed. The 183 CITES members can impose a trade ban and order an investigation if there is concern about the population of a species.

The environmental foundation WWF speaks of a "success story of international environmental diplomacy". But she calls for more decisive action against poaching. "Otherwise, our species protection successes will fall victim to crime," said Arnulf Köhnke from the WWF. Pro Wildlife demands more speed: "If we want to save global biodiversity from overexploitation, we need more speed and precautionary, comprehensive decisions instead of - as is currently the case - arduous and controversial debates about the protection status of individual species," said Altherr.

The measures taken to protect the vicuña, a South American species of camel, and the Nile crocodiles are seen as a CITES success. Stocks recovered due to trade bans. Andean residents are now selling vicuna wool sustainably, and Nile crocodiles, whose leather is popular, can sometimes be hunted again. On the other hand, tigers, rhinos and some elephants are still threatened by poaching.

Customs officers at German airports repeatedly experience how bad poaching is worldwide when they confiscate strictly protected animals or their products.

One reason for poaching is that smuggling protected species is a lucrative business - there is a market for it internationally because people are still willing to buy such products or animals. There are also disputes among the countries that belong to the species protection agreement. International cooperation is also becoming more difficult among CITES countries, said Higuero. She watches this with concern. South African countries are frustrated when it comes to elephants. "They say: We have the resources, but the others determine how we use them." They demand - so far in vain - the release of some elephant populations for commercial trade. Some threatened to withdraw from CITES, Higuero said. "We then say to the governments: with whom do you want to trade? Practically all other countries are subject to the CITES obligations."

In the fight against poaching, Higuero sees the growing cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination as a success. In addition, Germany in particular is supporting many countries in training wildlife guards and setting up management authorities. The CITES Secretary General called for tougher penalties for poaching. Usually only the henchmen who hunt or cut down trees are caught. The strings would be held by others. "We have to get the big ones," she said.

Sources: dpa, Nabu