CITES in relation to cats – is it effective?

Sad picture of cheetah cub saved from being trafficked to the Middle East to be a pet to the rich
Sad picture of cheetah cub saved from being trafficked to the Middle East to be a pet to the rich. Photo: Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Introduction

The second part of this page (after the long introduction) was written about 12-13 years ago. I need to warn people about that. Details can change over this sort of timeframe. It does not mean that they have changed because in the world of conservation and protecting wildlife under these sorts of treaties, things change very slowly indeed. There is also a distinct lack of enforcement which dramatically undermines these international agreements. Nonetheless the information here does have some value to anybody who has a passing interest in this topic.

CITES aims to protect wildlife threatened by commercial trading. It’s an agreement between governments. It came into force in 1975. There are 183 party governments (see base of article for the list). The idea for CITES was conceived in 1963.

For people who are unsure, CITES, is an acronym standing for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. There is a monumental and continuing trade in endangered species. Arguably CITES is an utter failure. I’ve been looking at this topic for the last 13 years and I don’t recall seeing any substantial improvements. It is a multi-billion business and I’m talking annually. It is huge.

Four of seven tiger frozen tiger cub carcasses destined for the Asian tiger body parts markerplace
Four of seven tiger frozen tiger cub carcasses destined for the Asian tiger body parts markerplace. Picture now in the public domain.

They state that under this international treaty, 38,700 species are “protected” against overexploitation through international trade. I disagree with that. They’re meant to be protected but the great difficulty with international agreements i.e. treaties, is that it is almost impossible to enforce them. Well, it is not entirely impossible because you could apply economic sanctions against a country which is in violation of this treaty but it is never going to happen. People simply do not value wild animals highly enough. Commerce always trumps conservation. That is a cast-iron mantra. You’re not going to reverse that and prioritise why animal body parts and living animals over the prospect of making big profits. And there’s too much corruption in government across the globe. If it is not corruption, it’s a lack of commitment to protect wildlife. If I wanted to be very negative, I would state that CITES is window dressing.

Like me, there are many critics of CITES. National Geographic probably sums it up when they say that conservationists go to 2-week meetings every few years and debate conservation and then go home and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. That’s what they call conservation among some conservationists.

Enforcement of CITES is down to the governments of member states. And as mentioned above there is often a lack of commitment or there is corruption or a lack of resources; so many obstacles to enforce it effectively.

RELATED: Bengal tiger poachers trap them in metal jaws and skewer them in mouth and anus.

A 2019 analysis published in the journal Science found that in almost 66% of cases, CITES protection lags behind exploitation. National Geographic cites the pangolin. It was added to Appendix I in 2017. About 1 million were trafficked between 2000 and 2013. Half of the eight species of pangolin are endangered or critically endangered. This is China’s fault and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, does not give a damn. He supports their traditional medicine which is where pangolin scales end up. Look at the above dates and look at how slow CITES works.

And the vast majority of animals that are traded commercially are not protected by CITES. Can anybody be surprised that people like me are cynical about the effectiveness of this treaty. The idea is brilliant. The execution of it is, for me, a failure because I want to see real progress and I’m not seeing it. I see a gradual descent to the bottom.

Tiger body part trafficker
Tiger body part trafficker, Phan Van Vui, one of those arrested.

RELATED: CITES and the Law plus other aspects of the law in terms of protection

The failure of CITES is apparent in the poaching of Bengal tigers and the trade in their body parts. They are poached let’s say in India or in other countries of Asia and then they are shipped via intermediary countries such as Burma or Cambodia and then down to China where Bengal tiger body parts are incorporated into the traditional Chinese medicine. And China has hundreds of tiger farms and I think about 5,000 Bengal tigers at any one time on these farms where they are bred exclusively for one thing: to be slaughtered and chopped up to feed the traditional Chinese medicine business. The very existence of these farms almost catastrophically undermines the relationship between humankind and the tiger. It is shouting out that they are livestock when they simply are not. They are precious, highly endangered, iconic species that the world must protect for future generations.

RELATED: Why Are Bengal Tigers Endangered?

There is a story in the online news media today about Bengal tigers being bred in South Africa for export to Asia. Apparently 359 tigers were exported from South Africa over the previous years. There is a ready-made market there for tigers. There is an insatiable appetite for tigers in Asia. They are used for food. And for traditional Chinese medicine. A superstitious concept. These tigers are bred to be eaten. They are farmed like livestock. But this must be in breach of CITES, an international treaty which is meant to protect wildlife from commercialisation like this. But, as mentioned above, this international treaty is unenforceable. If a state does not want to enforce it, they won’t and they don’t and nothing happens. It is toothless.

“The market being in Asia was already there, demand was there, so it made perfect sense for the (breeders) to move over to the tiger, which was again even more lucrative than lions”.- wildlife expert Kieran Harkin

CITES and cats

CITES in relation to cats — Contents

July 2012: Wild Cats are generally listed in Appendix II except for those listed below. The complication is that some of the cats listed in Appendix I have qualifications attached to them, meaning that the classification only applies to a cat of the species that lives at a certain location.

The wild cats protected? by CITES

Below is the list from Appendix I – see below for the meaning.

Acinonyx jubatus – The Cheetah ” (Annual export quotas for live specimens and hunting trophies are granted as follows: Botswana: 5; Namibia: 150; Zimbabwe: 50. The trade in such specimens is subject to the provisions of Article III of the Convention)” – quote from CITES
Caracal caracal  – The Caracal, Persian Lynx or African Lynx (Only the population of Asia; all other populations are included in Appendix II) – quote from CITES
Catopuma temminckii – The Asian Golden Cat
Felis nigripes –  The black-footed cat
Leopardus geoffroyi Geoffroy’s Cat
Leopardus jacobitus – The Andean Mountain Cat
Leopardus pardalis –  The Ocelot
Leopardus tigrinus The Oncilla
Leopardus wiedii –  The Margay
Lynx pardinus –  The Iberian Lynx
Neofelis nebulosa –  The Clouded Leopard
Panthera leo persica –  The Asiatic Lion
Panthera onca – The Jaguar
Panthera pardus –   The leopard
Panthera pardus orientalis – Amur Leopard
Panthera tigris –  The Tiger
Pardofelis marmorata –  The Marbled Cat
Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis–  The Leopard Cat (Only the populations of Bangladesh, India and Thailand; all other populations are included in Appendix II)
Prionailurus planiceps –  The Flat-headed Cat
Prionailurus rubiginosus The Rusty-spotted Cat (Only the population of India; all other populations are included in Appendix II)
Puma concolor coryi –  Florida Panther
Puma concolor costaricensis –  The Costa Rica Cougar
Puma concolor couguar –  The Cougar
Puma yagouaroundi – Jaguarundi – (Only the populations of Central and North America; all other populations are included in Appendix II)
Uncia Uncia or Panthera Uncia – Snow Leopard

Appendix I most endangered – CITES in relation to cats

As stated, this is a list from Appendix I of CITES. What does that mean? Appendix I lists the species that are the most endangered amongst the CITES listed animals and plants. All the wildcat species that are listed by CITES are most endangered except, as mentioned, in the table above (see Rusted Spotted Cat, Leopard Cat and Caracal, which are appendix II listed when these cats inhabit certain areas as mentioned in the table above). Appendix II lists species that are not “necessarily now threatened with extinction” but careful control of trade is required to prevent the species being listed in appendix I.

The cats listed above are threatened with extinction. Under CITES in relation to cats, international trade is prohibited with respect to the above listed wildcats.

There is an exception. Import/export is permitted when the purpose is non-commercial. This would seem to leave the door very firmly open, unfortunately. If import/export is to take place under this exception an import and export permit must be granted (not sure how good that is).

Article III of CITES sets out the trade regulations is relation to the above wild cats. In brief, the import, export or re-import of any of the above cats can only take place provided a permit has been granted after

  1. a “Scientific Authority” of the State concerned (country concerned) has advised that the import/export/re-import is not detrimental to the cat’s survival
  2. a “Management Authority” of the country concerned is satisfied that the wild cat was not obtained in contravention of the laws of the country concerned and that a living wild cat is shipped in way that minimizes risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment and further that the import/export/re-import permit has been obtained.

{note: this is not a verbatim recital, it is a summary. Please see full text if action is to be taken}

The Parties to the Convention – CITES in relation to cats

State

Afghanistan
Albania
Algeria
Antigua and Barbuda
Argentina
Australia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Bahamas
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belarus
Belgium
Belize
Benin
Bhutan
Bolivia
Botswana
Brazil
Brunei Darussalam
Bulgaria
Burkina Faso
Burundi
Cambodia
Cameroon
Canada
Cape Verde
Central African Republic
Chad
Chile
China
Colombia
Comoros
Congo
Costa Rica
Côte d’Ivoire
Croatia
Cuba
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Denmark
Djibouti
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
Egypt
El Salvador
Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea
Estonia
Ethiopia
Fiji
Finland
France
Gabon
Gambia
Georgia
Germany
Ghana
Greece
Grenada
Guatemala
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Guyana
Honduras
Hungary
Iceland
India
Indonesia
Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Ireland
Israel
Italy
Jamaica
Japan
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Kenya
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Latvia
Lesotho
Liberia
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Madagascar
Malawi

Malaysia

Mali
Malta
Mauritania
Mauritius
Mexico
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Morocco
Mozambique
Myanmar
Namibia
Nepal
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Niger
Nigeria
Norway
Oman
Pakistan
Palau
Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
Peru
Philippines
Poland
Portugal
Qatar
Republic of Korea
Romania
Russian Federation
Rwanda
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Samoa
San Marino
Sao Tome and Principe
Saudi Arabia
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
Solomon Islands
Somalia
South Africa
Spain

Sri Lanka

Sudan
Suriname
Swaziland
Sweden
Switzerland
Syrian Arab Republic
Thailand
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Togo
Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia
Turkey
Uganda
Ukraine
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United Republic of Tanzania
United States of America
Uruguay
Uzbekistan
Vanuatu
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Viet Nam
Yemen
Zambia
Zimbabwe

Photograph: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License

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