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March 6, 2013

Report from COP16

A dispatch from HSI's team at the 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES

Humane Society International

  • Dancers perform at the opening of the 16th Conference of the Parties to CITES. HSI

The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora most famously deals with issues like the ivory and rhino horn trades, but also maintains other important trade bans, including the ban on whale products. A large HSI team from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and Asia is currently in Bangkok, Thailand attending the 16th Conference of the Parties (or "CoP 16") of CITES.

There, we are working with colleagues from around the world to try and help put in place trade bans and controls that will help better protect the multiple species on the meeting's agenda for consideration. Proposals for sharks, rays, the African manatee, rhinos, elephants and polar bears are at stake. Learn more about the various proposals.

Opening days

CoP 16 commenced on Sunday, March 3 with a number of speeches, including one by Thailand's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, which focused on the need to better conserve elephants and the commitment to this from her government. Another speech was provided as a video from Prince William of the UK, who encouraged the conference to make progress and mentioned his concern for marine species, which have long been controversial at CITES and tend to receive more limited protection than terrestrial species.

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The CoP was officially opened with three strikes of a gong by the Thai prime minister, followed by some inspirational music, dance and sand painting. Later that night, a festive reception was held in celebration of the 40th anniversary of CITES. There are more than 2,000 delegates registered for the meeting. Many represent non-governmental organizations (such as HSI) and many of these are international or national conservation organizations. Others represent traders or hunting organizations.

Meeting logistics

The main hall where the CITES CoP will meet in plenary is about 150 meters (almost 500 feet) long and nearly as wide. For the first week, the CoP divides itself into two huge committees, called Committee One and Committee Two. Committee One will remain in the main hall and will make an initial assessment of the proposals that relate mainly to where species are on those famous and important Appendices. This may include changes to the Appendices, which require a 2/3 vote. Committee Two concerns itself mainly with procedural matters—the rules under which CITES functions.

Over the coming few days, we shall hear proposals about sharks, the African manatee and the polar bear discussed and preliminary decisions taken by the two committees. These are then referred to the plenary session of CITES, which will meet next week. There are procedures at that second stage that can be used to re-open discussions and for proposals to be voted on again. Decisions are often reversed! For instance, a decision in favor of the polar bear made this week in Committee One still needs to be confirmed in the plenary next week.

Our goals

The main focus of our activities in Thailand is to try to persuade the member nations (or "Parties") of CITES (178 of them, although not all are here and some that are here do not have the necessary credentials) to support key proposals to list species of particular concern on Appendix I or Appendix II of CITES. Appendix I gives the highest level of protection to the species listed there, effectively banning them from international trade. This is currently where the great whales stand; we support proposals to add polar bears and freshwater sawfish (uplisted from Appendix II). International trade is allowed but regulated for species listed on Appendix II.  Proposals to list 11 shark and ray species and African manatees on Appendix II will be discussed later this week.

HSI’s team in Bangkok will provide updates throughout the Convention. Check back at hsi.org/cites or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Help stop wildlife abuse by donating to support our work or signing our Don't Buy Wild pledge.

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