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Weaknesses In Existing Treaties-Analysis Of The Effectiveness Of Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Treaties

Wildlife trafficking is the act of trading non-domesticated plants and animals from their natural environment of being or raised under controlled and non-natural environment either as dead or living animals. However, not all wildlife trading is illegal.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is a major wildlife environmental crime, it involves unauthorized and illegal poaching, smuggling, and trading of endangered protected wildlife creatures of both flora and fauna, in contravention of the law. Often leading to their overexploitation. Illegal wildlife trafficking today is a serious concern as it hurts the survival probability of many endangered species due to the lack of viability of their population.

It is a major concern today as wildlife trafficking is a big business, estimates are that it runs in billions of dollars. The industry is driven by high-profit margins. In many cases rare the species, the higher the prices paid. As a result, which demands are driving the crime? Eventually, it all boils down to consumer demand. Traffickers tend to target the species that are most in need of protection. As a result of this pressure, many species are pushed to the brink of extinction, making the demand for wildlife the primary driver of the biodiversity crisis.

Wildlife trafficking poses a serious threat to global biodiversity by increasing the chances of new diseases spreading from animals to humans, it not only threatens wildlife but human health also.

Anti-Wildlife Treaties
Today's biodiversity catastrophes, like climate change and wildlife trafficking, cannot be solved without international cooperation. The success or failure of global and regional conservation efforts will have a significant, if not decisive, impact on the future of many of the world's most endangered species and environments.

Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)[i] like the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS)[ii], the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[iii], and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)[iv] must continue to expand wildlife protections and be effectively enforced.

While national governments and MEAs offer much-needed protection for many species, their efforts are sometimes outweighed, if not completely swamped, by the very profitable illegal wildlife trafficking.

CITES or The Convention on Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora

CITES[v] is an agreement between countries also known as CITES parties that provides a legal framework for the international trade of different species of plants and animals to ensure their sustainability. It works towards protecting endangered species from the brink of extinction due to trade. It is administered by the United Nations under the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).

Even though CITES is legally binding on the parties it does not override the national laws. Appendixes of CITES specify the species. It classifies animals and plants into three categories basis their extent of endangerment. The most recent was the 19th Conference of the parties to CITES from (14th – 25th November 2022) wherein different countries submitted their proposals for stricter protection of the species.

Effectiveness Of Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Treaties
The effectiveness of most of these treaties is close to nil. The progress is far from perfect. Talking of CITES, for several species experts even lack the basic data like the population count, making it impossible to know the level of sustainable trade.

The scale of trafficking is staggering, between 2006- 2015 more than 1.5 million flora and fauna, and 2 million meats were exported alone from Africa to Asia under the guise of "legally traded"[vi]. When looked at closely the volume of international trade of species not listed under CITES is 10 times greater than the ones listed.

CITES representatives are also negligent of the import-export mechanism. They negligently issue, sell permits, or even allow permits to be stolen. CITES however possesses the sanction, i.e., if a party is found guilty of violations, then CITES can prevent the member country from trading in that listed species.[vii] However, in reality, CITES hardly ever passes sanctions as they always gloss over the bigger players.

In the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, despite it was found that wildlife treaties played a very crucial role in reducing the trade of some endangered species, biodiversity is still seriously threatened by wildlife trafficking, and treaties need to be effectively implemented and upheld.[viii]

The efficiency of several international environmental accords, especially those about wildlife protection, was examined in the research of UNEP in 2017. and discovered that while there is certainly space for improvement, these agreements have been successful in accomplishing some of their goals. Several suggestions were made in the study, such as the necessity of greater implementation and enforcement, additional financial assistance, and enhanced country cooperation.[ix]

The study discovered that since 1970, the number of animal populations has decreased by an average of 69%. The report said that a variety of reasons, such as habitat loss, overfishing, and climate change, were to blame for this drop.[x]

Carnivores and ungulates' conservation status was already declining 40 years ago, but it has since become worse. Nearly half of the species in Southeast Asia went closer to extinction, while one-fourth of all species (n = 498) globally moved one or more categories closer to extinction.[xi] Sudan, the last male of the subspecies known to science, passed away in March 2018.

Since that time, the last wild population of northern white rhinos has unquestionably gone extinct. The greatest worry is poaching, which is primarily fueled by the desire for rhino horn on a global scale.[xii] The IUCN Red List rates the Indian rhino as vulnerable, the black, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos as critically endangered, and the white rhinoceros as near threatened.[xiii]

Challenges to implementing wildlife treaties include a lack of money, limited compliance, and governments' unwillingness to place long-term, enforceable restrictions on economic growth.[xiv] These treaties contain restrictions, and they might not always be the best tools for dealing with a particular danger to species.[xv]

Despite their drawbacks, wildlife treaties have aided in the establishment of protected areas, a national law that prohibits the exploitation of wildlife, and increased the importance of conservation concerns on governmental agendas. CITES has been successful in controlling wildlife trade[xvi], and it has been used to protect several fish and wood species with considerable commercial value that were previously viewed as going beyond the purview of the Convention.

Suggestive Measures:
  1. Strengthening Enforcement
    One of the ways to improve the enforcement is to increase the funding for the enforcement agencies. Such increased funding will allow these agencies to be equipped with the best equipment, hire more staff, and conduct more investigations. Moreover, it must be ensured that the information shared among these agencies is well coordinated. It will help to break down silos and will allow effective sharing of information. To deter criminals from indulging in anti-wildlife activities, penalties can be strengthened.
  2. Strengthening International Cooperation
    There must be a global network of countries working to protect wildlife by encouraging more countries to ratify and implement anti-wildlife treaties. Financial assistance including technical expertise and training can also be provided to support developing nations to implement wildlife treaties effectively.
  3. Addressing the Root Causes of Wildlife Trafficking
    Demands for wildlife products must be reduced. It can be done through education and awareness campaigns and also by cracking down the illegal markets. Moreover, Livelihoods in rural communities can be improved as it will ensure the reduction of poverty and make people less likely to turn to wildlife trafficking to make money.

    Lastly, It must be ensured that wildlife populations are harvested sustainably and not overexploited by adopting more sustainable wildlife management practices. We also contend that CITES is insufficient to address transnational organized crime or wildlife trafficking and that a new global international instrument is required.
  4. Technology In Combatting Wildlife Trafficking
    Technology on one hand increases the ability of wildlife traffickers to stay connected across the globe and increase their networking without much police. However, on the other hand, technology also offers numerous ways to combat this crime. It includes drones, air surveillance devices, gunshot detectors, 3D printing, apps that help identify species, hand devices for rangers, and camera traps.[xvii]

    These techniques can be simple and inexpensive especially at the Continental level with the use of AI because of better internet connectivity over time.[xviii] With the advent of technology, the process of collecting, condensing, estimating, and sharing information can be done at an unprecedented rate.

Other Measures
Transparency and accountability should be increased to ensure that there is public oversight of anti-wildlife trafficking efforts and that governments are held accountable for their actions. Research and Development should be supported so that new technologies and methods can be adopted to detect and prevent wildlife trafficking. Civil Society organizations should be advocated which can play a vital role in raising awareness and educating the people. These productive steps will certainly advocate the change.

Wildlife trafficking poses a severe risk to both human health and biodiversity across the world. Despite being crucial in curbing the trade in some endangered species, anti-wildlife trafficking treaties fall short of addressing the underlying issues that lead to this crime. By adopting proactive measures to preserve wildlife, we can significantly impact the battle against wildlife trafficking and save the biodiversity of our world for future generations.

This article has been written by Jay Kumar Gupta and Khushbu Gami, Third-Year BBA LL.B.(Hons.) Students of School of Law, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Bengaluru.

  1. Multilateral Environment Agreements, 1972
  2. Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, 1983
  3. The Convention on Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna, 1973
  4. Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
  5. Supra 4
  6. Rachel Nuwer, how well does CITES really prevent wildlife trafficking and illegal trade? Ensia, October 2018
  7. Arie Trouwborst, Andrew Blackmore, Luigi Boitani, Michael Bowman, Richard Caddell, Guillaume Chapron, An Cliquet, Ed Couzens, Yaffa Epstein, Eladio Fernández-Galiano, Floor M. Fleurke, Royal Gardner, Luke Hunter, Kim Jacobsen, Miha Krofel, Melissa Lewis, José Vicente López-Bao, David Macdonald, Stephen Redpath, Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith, John D. C. Linnell, International Wildlife Law: Understanding and Enhancing Its Role in Conservation, BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 9, September 2017, Pages 784-790
  8. IPBES (2019): Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 1148 pages -
  9. Conference: 13th Training Course on International Environmental Law-making and Diplomacy, University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) At: Joensuu, Finland
  10. Living Planet Report 2022, WWF
  11. DI MARCO, M., et al. "A Retrospective Evaluation of the Global Decline of Carnivores and Ungulates." Conservation Biology, vol. 28, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1109-18
  12. Bram Janssens & Arie Trouwborst (2018) Rhinoceros Conservation and International Law: The Role of Wildlife Treaties in Averting Megaherbivore Extinction, Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 21:2-3, 146-189 -
  13. IUCN Red List, version 2016-3: white rhino, Indian rhino
  14. Hodgetts, T., Lewis, M., Bauer, H. et al. Improving the role of global conservation treaties in addressing contemporary threats to lions. Biodivers Conserv 27, 2747-2765 (2018)
  15. Arie Trouwborst, International Wildlife Law: Understanding and Enhancing Its Role in Conservation, BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 9, September 2017, Pages 784-790
  16. Wildlife Treaty Comes Of Age -- Cites Celebrates 30 Years Of Achievement 30/6/2005 Press Release Env/Dev/865 Unep/299
  17. Jacqueline Cochrane and Ashwell Glasson, A double-edged sword: the role of technology in combating wildlife crime, Issue no. 27, Enact, Jun 2022
  18. Lionel Hachemin, How can we use AI to combat wildlife crime, International fund for animal welfare, Aug 2022

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