The FOUR PAWS team was in Panama fighting for better protection for big cats at the CITES CoP19 conference. With CITES regulating international trade in over 38,000 threatened species, the intense two weeks brought some good news for big cats, some wins for elephants and some losses for other species like hippos.
During the first week, FOUR PAWS joined forces with the Species Survival Network (SSN) and other NGOs to create an Asian Big Cats briefing document, including an urgent call to action to global leaders to protect Asian big cats and recommendations to achieve this. The briefing was shared with CITES delegates ahead of votes later that week.
The big cat discussion outcomes were generally welcomed. Here is what our Wildlife Trade experts reported:
- Existing Decisions and Resolutions around tiger farming, international enforcement cooperation, wildlife trade tourism markets and demand-reduction stay in place. And Parties will need to report on the progress of these decisions at the next CITES Standing Committee (SC77) in November 2023.
- India, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, the UK and USA expressed concern over the lack of progress in tackling trade and demand.
- It was agreed that big cat investigations to disrupt criminal networks and law enforcement should continue.
- Specific timelines were set for CITES missions to breeding facilities of concern to examine tiger trade and tiger farming. FOUR PAWS reiterated its offer of funding these missions.
- Disappointing to see Proposals being ignored from countries like India, Bangladesh and Malaysia which requested more national campaigns to reduce the demand for tiger parts used in products like traditional medicine.
- Discussions on African lions emphasized that it is crucial to first understand legal and illegal trade in lions in order comprehend the impacts for other big cat species
FOUR PAWS also organised a side event, bringing together big cat experts as well as opening and closing remarks from the conference hosts, the Environment Ministry of Panama. It was agreed in unison that the illegal and commercial trade of big cats must stop, and that one way forward is to start shutting down tiger farms.
Other wins saw boosted protection for reptiles, amphibians, sharks, songbirds and trees. Measures aimed at reducing the risks of future pandemics emerging from international wildlife trade supply chains and improving the conditions for live animals in trade were also agreed on. One of these measures includes adding the One Health approach in the implementation of the Convention. It would mean that risks like injuries, health issues or cruel treatment of animals would be considered when regulating and administering captive-breeding facilities or farms.
However, not all outcomes were positive. Discussions failed to protect hippos, whose teeth are in demand for the ivory trade; and protection was downgraded for Namibia’s white rhinos, whose populations remain small.
We are currently experiencing an extinction crisis, with wild populations having plummeted by 69% since 1970. It is thus crucial to continue discussions on biodiversity at a global level. With your support, we will continue to fight and raise awareness that commercial breeding and trade of key species such as big cats is not conservation and continue to lobby governments in Europe and South Africa to ban these practices.