Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Official! African Manatees are now CITES Appendix I

Not surprisingly, after the CITES COP overwhelmingly reached a consensus to uplist African manatees from Appendix II to Appendix I, the proposal was quickly approved at the CITES plenary session last week. So it will be official in approximately 90 days. What does this mean? It will ban international commercial trade, but in reality not many African manatees are legally traded (about 19 have gone to aquariums in Asia over the past decade). I dearly hope this measure will bring attention to all the poaching of the species and lead to crackdowns in illegal trade of manatee meat and parts in African countries, but the skeptic in me is concerned that without dedicated funds, not much will happen. The good news is governments in many African countries support protecting their manatees (13 country reps signed a declaration stating they will work towards specific objectives to decrease illegal hunting, improve manatee habitat altered by human development, and promote research, conservation and educational outreach), but I hope we can keep the good will and momentum going. And work on fundraising! I plan to continue my collaboration with the enegetic folks at the Species Survival Network in order to start working on those declaration objectives.

For researchers such as myself, a CITES Appendix I designation also means we'll need additional permits to export/import manatee scientific specimens for analysis and educational purposes, and it will be more difficult overall. It adds another level to the dizzying number of permits I already need to keep up with, and I'm not complaining, but it can be frustrating to work so hard to do the right thing, and then see poachers openly selling manatee meat in markets. It'll take alot of work and a long time to change the way things are, but I'm happy that I have some very dedicated African colleagues to work alongside. Here's hoping the new CITES rule will make a real difference in African manatee conservation.

Friday, March 08, 2013

CITES COP16 African Manatee Consensus‏

On Wednesday at the CITES Conference of Parties (COP16) in Bangkok, Thailand, the range states reached a consensus to uplist the African manatee to CITES Appendix I. This is actually a bit surprising given the lack of population and illegal trade data that exists for African manatees, but I think it speaks well of the interest of countries around the world wishing to protect our favorite species! If interested, you can read a blog post written by a colleague from Species Survival Network, who is attending the meeting. The consensus will not be official until after the COP16 plenary meeting next week, but it should encounter little difficulty being adopted since there has already been a consensus. I hope this status change will translate into actual protection on the ground for manatees in Africa, and not just become another rule that is never enforced. I don't mean to be a pessimist, but there are already so many laws meant to protect African manatees, yet almost no enforcement anywhere in Africa. I also hope this new CITES designation will also raise awareness about the species around the world, since most people I encounter don't even know there are manatees in Africa. There's been some good reporting from the CITES COP16, see the following links:

Born Free Foundation
The Guardian
National Geographic

Friday, March 01, 2013

African Manatee Proposal to CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an agreement between governments to ensure that trade of animals and plants does not threaten their survival (I got that wording from their website because I couldn't have said it better myself!). For endangered species, legal international trade (which includes both commercial trade as well as import/export for scientific study, educational purposes, etc.) requires obtaining an export permit from the country the wildlife originates from, and an import permit to bring it to another country. CITES also works to try to stop illegal wildlife trade by agreeing upon regulations that are agreed upon by their 177 member countries. Every few years they hold a Conference of Parties to review and vote upon proposals to update species regulatory status. This year the conference is in March in Bangkok, Thailand, and there's a proposal to uplist the African manatee from Appendix II to Appendix I, meaning that there is a request to increase restrictions on trade for African manatees.

The co-chairs of the Sirenian Specialist Group have written a very strong and eloquent letter to CITES in support of raising the African manatee to CITES (to read it click here)