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Global Summit On The Illegal Wildlife Trade Opens In South Africa

Ivory burn, Kenya

The insatiable demand for ivory has seen the number of elephants poached rocket in the last decade. CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s major summit on the trade in endangered species opened this weekend, which will see countries try and establish the best way to crack down on and manage the illegal trade in wildlife.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 17th Conference of Parties (CoP) is considered by many conservationists as a last-ditch attempt in saving many of the world’s most iconic species. The summit runs from September 24 to October 5.

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The summit is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, with representatives of 181 nations expected to attend the international meeting. CITES is a treaty created in 1975 that aims to protect endangered species by tackling the illegal wildlife trade, thought to be worth up to $20 billion annually. Currently, there are 35,000 species protected under CITES, of which 5,600 are animals.

This year’s conference will see the nations discuss and vote on 62 proposals concerning the trade of around 500 different species, submitted by wildlife experts from around the globe. The main focus, however, will likely be around the remaining legal trade in ivory, which many countries want to outright ban. Some, however, are resisting that move, arguing instead that restrictions should be loosened, which would allow them to sell off stockpiles of confiscated ivory.

Other species likely to share the spotlight are rhinos, which have seen a dangerous spike in poaching over the last five years, and pangolins – the little-known scaly anteaters that have the unenviable title of the most trafficked mammal in the world.

The bizarre-looking pangolin is the world's most illegally trafficked mammal. 2630ben/Shutterstock

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“We all know the challenges we have been confronting in tackling the surge in illegal wildlife trade, especially as it affects elephants, pangolins and rhinos,” Secretary General for CITES, John E. Scanlon, said during his opening speech. "We also know of the challenges in ensuring sustainable and legal trade, including in listed pythons, rosewood and sharks.

“CoP17 is not just about describing the challenges, it is about reviewing what we have been doing to meet them and determining what more must be done. And we have much to report to this CoP. Significant progress has been made since we last met in 2013, politically, financially and technically.”

Already, reports have been coming out about the state of some of these species. The latest figures on the number of elephants have revealed a shocking picture of their decline, finding that 111,000 elephants were poached over the last 10 years. This means that around 50 have been killed per day over the last decade.

“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant – one of the world's most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” explains IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species. This report provides further scientific evidence of the need to scale up efforts to combat poaching.”

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It is hoped that within the next 10 days, we will see motions passed to increase the protection for not only elephants, but a whole array of other animals and plants threatened by poachers' desire for pelts, meat, pets, and traditional remedies taken from the wild.

A rhino's horn is removed to protect it from poaching in South Africa. Snap2Art/Shutterstock


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