In the world of conservation, one is quite often faced with gloomy news and challenges. But the past two weeks have given us – and scores of endangered species – much to cheer about!
Of course, I am referring to the results of the CITES CoP17 meeting, which wrapped up last week in Johannesburg, South Africa. CITES is the key meeting where governments from all over the world decide on which wildlife species should be protected from trade.
Here’s a round-up of progress for our five favourite species in Singapore, and why we, as Singaporeans, should care.
Pangolins: The rising stars of conservation
The most trafficked mammal in the world finally gets the protection it deserves! Countries at CITES voted to give all eight pangolin species (4 Asian, 4 African) the highest form of protection possible: an uplisting to Appendix I. This means that all commercial trade in pangolins is now illegal, a move that could save this gentle animal from extinction.
During CITES, Singapore stepped up to publicly voice the country’s support for the uplisting of pangolins. As a country with a healthy population of pangolins, this was a proud moment for all of us on this global stage!
African Grey Parrots: If they could really speak, they’d thank us too
Another big win was for the African Grey Parrot. In a nail-biting secret ballot, countries at the conference voted for it to be listed on Appendix I, protecting it from all commercial trade. Everyone cheered!
The African Grey Parrot is one of the world’s most-traded exotic birds, which has resulted in a massive loss of its populations in the wild. Sadly, it is already extinct in certain African countries.
In Singapore, these docile, intelligent and beautiful birds are commonly kept as pets. This means the responsibility lies on us to help its populations recover by putting a stop to its sale here in Singapore.
Sharks and Devil Rays: Safeguarding species from over-fishing
No wildlife trade conference is complete without some debate over our favourite fishes: sharks and rays. Thresher Sharks, Silky Sharks and Devil Rays will now receive a new layer of protection where none existed before.
Populations of these amazing marine creatures have declined over the years due to over-fishing. In addition, shark fin and the gill rakers of rays are highly sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The listing of these species in Appendix II now means that trade of these species must be from legal and sustainable sources.
What does this mean for Singapore, one of the biggest traders of shark fin? Our government will now have to put in more measures to identify these species from other non-protected species and ensure that they are traceable to a legal source. Not the easiest task, but we have full confidence that Singapore can step up to it!
Elephants: Singapore has a role to play!
In a step towards curbing rampant global trade in ivory, countries voted to close all domestic ivory markets. It may seem like an obvious thing that should have been done long ago, but domestic markets are still operating in many countries!
In addition, proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe to reopen trade in elephants were resoundingly rejected. Although populations of elephants in these countries are doing fairly well, the overall numbers of African Elephants are still on a decline. Opening international trade would only complicate current efforts to curb illegal trade in ivory.
Here in Singapore, we have our work cut out for us. Following Singapore’s inclusion in the CITES elephant trade report as a ‘country of primary concern’, we need to work together – government, conservation groups and the public – to stem the use of our country as a transit point for illegal ivory.
Tigers: Closing down captive breeding
Tigers received a boost of support at CITES too. The Lao government has announced that they will close down tiger farms across the country – a significant move in a region where tiger breeding facilities have grown at an astonishing rate over the last 15 years. Trade in captive-bred tigers tends to drive up demand for wild tigers, since there is no way to tell if a tiger product is from a captive-bred or wild tiger.
Today, close to 3,900 tigers remain in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago. WWF’s global tiger programme is working to double the number of tigers by 2022, and closing down captive breeding facilities will certainly help achieve this goal.
Countries have come together and, with the power of our votes, committed to protect the future of our most vulnerable species. But, this is only the start. We need governments to put these decisions into necessary actions: regulations, laws and measures. WWF stands ready to assist Singapore in protecting our wildlife and will follow up on this. As we do so, we will also keep you updated.
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