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Join the fight to save endangered wildlife (such as the pangolin) as major conservation forum meets in South Africa

Join the fight to save endangered wildlife (such as the pangolin) as major conservation forum meets in South Africa

The pangolin is the most illegally-traded mammal in the world

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is drawing attention to the plight of some of the world’s most threatened and endangered species as government delegations and NGOs converge on South Africa for the start of an international meeting to discuss their plight.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) holds its year-17 Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) from this Saturday (24 September) to 5 October in Johannesburg.

The future survival of many species will be affected by decisions taken by the delegates. This will occur as governments vote to either increase or decrease the level of protection for certain animals.

IFAW has sent a delegation of experts and campaigners to lobby delegates at the meeting as it pushes for increased protection for key species, in particular rhinos, lions, elephants, pangolins, Barbary macaques and African Grey parrots.

Wildlife trade, whether for live animals or animal parts for consumption, traditional medicine or for ornaments and trinkets, has pushed many animals to the brink of extinction. IFAW is working around the globe to safeguard our most vulnerable species and their habitats, to combat poaching, ensure better enforcement of wildlife trade regulations and to educate and reduce consumer demand for wildlife products.

At CITES, IFAW is lobbying for better protection for threatened species and opposing reduced safeguards which would permit more hunting and trading in endangered animals.

‘Illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade has become such a huge threat to many species that international cooperation between governments, NGOs and other stakeholders is absolutely vital in tackling it,’ says Azzedine Downes, CEO and President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and head of IFAW’s delegation.

‘Conservation must be at the heart of all decisions taken at the CoP. The stakes are high for so many species. We must make certain that sound science and the precautionary principle are deciding factors. Not short-term political or economic interests.’

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A major focus for this CoP is the pangolin or scaly anteater [above]. They are little known to many yet the most illegally traded mammal in the world. More than a million have been taken from the wild in the past decade. Their scales are being used in traditional Asian medicine and their meat is a highly valued delicacy. Pangolins are particularly sensitive to over-exploitation because their reproductive rate is very low.

‘We could very soon see this amazing species disappear, if the unsustainable trade continues,’ says Mark Hofberg, IFAW’s pangolin expert.

‘All eight pangolin species have to be transferred to Appendix I. This is to ensure maximum protection from further commercial trade in their parts. It is absolutely unsustainable, unnecessary and cruel and there is no reason why it should continue.’

Once again ivory trade and elephants will be a highly controversial topic at the conference. Zimbabwe and Namibia are keen to lessen protection status of their elephant populations in order to be able to sell stockpiled ivory. By contrast, the African Elephant Coalition, comprising 29 African countries, has put forward a package of five proposals for stronger elephant protection; one of them asks to list all elephant populations on Appendix I, thus prohibiting any international commercial trade.

‘Despite public outcry and numerous positive international efforts to draw attention to the elephant crisis, poaching and associated illicit ivory trade continues to escalate,’ says Jason Bell, IFAW’s Elephant Programme Director. “We therefore support all measures that increase protection for elephants and reject all proposals that will relax it; hence we are backing the AEC proposals. Further we are urging CITES parties to focus on elephant conservation needs all across Africa. [That is] rather than concentrating on controversial trade negotiations.’

Another key issue will be the proposal by Gabon and others to transfer the African grey parrot to Appendix I. They are highly prized as pets due to their extraordinary capacity for acoustic learning and retention.

Populations have decreased by between 50 and 90 per cent. In some cases they are locally extinct in the wild. Scientists estimate that two to three million African greys were captured from the wild between 1975 and 2013.

‘This species is losing ground throughout its entire range and will continue to do so as long as international trade for African greys exists,’ says Kelvin Alie, IFAW Acting Vice-President Animal Welfare and Conservation. ‘It is therefore absolutely necessary to give them the highest possible protection if we don’t want to lose them.’

To find out more about IFAW and how you can help, click here.