“Don’t confuse me with the facts, I have already made up my mind” was very much the attitude of the Parties (Government representatives) of some 135 registered members of the original 183 Parties attending CoP18 in Geneva.
The impassioned plea of speaker after speaker from the SADC region on the need for Sustainable Utilization (SU) as a cornerstone requirement for conservation in Africa was ignored as was Sovereign Rights, the needs of rural communities and poverty alleviation.
That the range states of East and West Africa supported by non-range states dictate to the SADC region where 90% of giraffe, elephant and rhino are to be found under excellent management regimes is a disgrace. Their failed conservation actions and policies were used to justify a non SU position against SADC members. Kenya even went so far as to propose a closure of domestic trade in rhino horn which is in total violation of Member Sovereign Rights!
CITES CoP’s have to be the biggest, most expensive and most incompetent decision-making event in the world where over 3 500 delegates comprising; Party Representatives, International Bodies, accredited NGO’s, observers and the media meet to deliberate on policy that affects the International Trade in Endangered Species. This event and body are bigger than FIFA, the Olympic Committee or the United Nations.
In addition to various proposals on elephant, giraffe and numerous other species there were two white rhino proposals;
- CoP 18 Proposal 8 submitted by Eswatini (Swaziland); for the removal of the Appendix I annotation on the ‘specimen of the specie’ (in this case rhino horn) allowing for the trade in stockpile horns of some 330kg of horn. This proposal was defeated by 102 No votes, with 25 Yes votes and 7 Abstain.
- CoP 18 Proposal 9 submitted by Namibia; to transfer their rhino population from Appendix I to Appendix II with Appendix I annotation on the ‘specimen of the specie’. This listing would give Namibia the same status as South Africa and Eswatini. This proposal was defeated by 82 No votes, with 22 Yes votes and 13 Abstain.
Further South Africa submitted an amendment to the existing Black Rhino hunting quota from 5 animals to .5% of population. As SA has just under 2000 black rhino this would allow for the hunting of some 10 non-productive bulls. This amendment was approved.
The SA Government (DEFF) arranged 2 Side Events where Parties including the international media were invited to attend presentations on “Rhino Species Conservation in SA”. The first Side Event was to present an analysis of the current situation which included enforcement, the cost of anti-poaching, RhODIS and the White Rhino NDF and the second Side Event titled ‘A need for change’. During the second event Michael ‘t Sas Rolfes, myself and Dr Brendan Moyle, a Professor from Massey University, presented on the socio-economic aspects of rhino species survival, the role of private reserves in rhino conservation and the need to trade (legal vs illegal trade). After these presentations the DDG of DEFF Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi summarised the presentations with ‘A paradigm shift in rhino conservation’ and what needs to change. The presentations described a failed CITES ban and the urgent need for a review in policy.
During a CoP whilst NGO’s have no voting rights, they have the ability to give input during a Proposal debate. On two occasions I on behalf of PROA, WRSA and a number of international SU NGO’s presented or as is referred to ‘gave an intervention’. Mr Godfrey Harris of the Ivory Education Institute sent the following complimentary comment: ”Pelham: I came looking for you immediately after you made that dramatic and absolutely riveting intervention on behalf of South Africa, its people, its wildlife, its sovereignty. I told everyone at Eugene’s (previous Secretary General of CITES) after hours meeting about how effective I thought your points and we all agreed that the outcome of the agenda item was very favourable to what Southern Africa wants to come from this CoP”.
The SA team at CoP18 comprising DEFF officials and industry representatives all gave excellent Proposal presentations and Interventions. Our officials fought as hard as possible for SA rights to SU and the need for International Trade. In all the CoP’s I have attended I have never seen such a unified position from the SADC countries, the CITES Secretariat and Parties received a very clear message that the treatment we suffer under CITES policies and biased voting is intolerable. It is clear CITES has deviated from its founding principles of science based, with supporting factual information, guide policy and enforcement to provide for sustainable utilization of endangered species.
The way forward
We await the DEFF announcement of the members of the: HIGH-LEVEL PANEL OF EXPERTS FOR THE REVIEW OF POLICIES, LEGISLATION AND PRACTICES ON MATTER RELATED TO THE MANAGEMENT, BREEDING, HUNTING, TRADE AND HANDLING OF ELEPHANT, LION, LEOPARD AND RHINOCEROS. They will have the responsibility to review and advise the Minister on the way forward, no doubt there are going to be substantive political discussions and decisions among SADC members on our relationship with CITES.
During one of my interventions I made the following statement “We have sovereign rights to both manage and trade in OUR wildlife, it is an entrenched right in the South African Constitution, but we must pander to non SU ideology that is destroying our wildlife heritage. SA with just 1% of the earths land surface, has 6 biospheres, 10 % of the worlds known bird, fish and plant species and over 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species. As internationally acclaimed conservationists our needs and policies should be respected by member states”.
So, whilst SA made no trade proposals, our officials made repeated interventions in support for the need to trade and the need for a Paradigm Shift. PROA will start work immediately towards the next CoP as well as insisting on CBO submissions which can allow for trade without having to wait another 3 years. PROA will continue to engage with SADC Range State CITES representatives as well as other Parties, who we believe will assist in our objective to achieve International Trade as a funding mechanism for rhino conservation and through trade reduce poaching pressure on our wild population through a regulated supply to meet end user demand.