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Ivory, rhino horn and pangolins on agenda of CITES meeting

Storyline:Science & Tech

The 17th meeting of the U.N.’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) kicks off in Johannesburg on Saturday and runs until October 5.

This meeting comes against the backdrop of a surge in elephant and rhino poaching in recent years in Africa, which has raised the emotional, ecological and economic stakes in this round of big animal diplomacy.

Here are some facts about CITES and the upcoming meeting:

– CITES is a global agreement among governments that regulates trade in wild flora and fauna or products derived from them with an aim to ensuring their survival. Over 180 countries are signatories.

– The Convention’s regulations only apply to trade between countries. It does not override national legislation or regulate domestic trade in wild species.

– CITES classifies species in three appendices: Appendix 1 includes those regarded as highly endangered or threatened with extinction. It prohibits global trade in such species or their byproducts for commercial purposes. Exceptions for cross-border movement are made if the intention is not commercial sale. Examples would include rhino horn or ivory elephant tusks taken as trophies by sports hunters who took part in legal hunts.

– Species listed in Appendix II are not threatened with extinction but controls are imposed on trade to ensure overexploitation does not take place and that wild populations remain viable.

– Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one CITES member state which has asked the Convention for help in controlling trade.

– Changes to Appendix I and II are made every three or four years at the main CITES’ meetings, such as the one taking place in Johannesburg. In U.N-speak these are called Conferences of the Parties or COPs.

– COP 17 in Johannesburg includes proposals by Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell ivory stockpiles; a proposal by other African nations led by Kenya to keep the global ivory trade on lockdown by including all of the continent’s elephant populations in Appendix I; a proposal by Swaziland for permission to sell rhino horn from its stockpile to international buyers; and initiatives to bring greater protection to sharks and pangolins, a small, scaly animal regarded as the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal.

– Changes to Appendix I and II require the support of two-thirds of the countries represented at a COP, though CITES says it strives “as far as possible” for consensus.