JOHANNESBURG – As host nation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and flora (CITES) CoP17 conference, South Africa has prioritised its national agenda, thereby highlighting issues around lion, rhino and elephant.

These are ‘sexier’ discussions than the under-threat Rosewood and African cherry trees, or the ancient pangolin, Director: Division of Environmental Law and Conventions at the United Nations Environment Programme Elizabeth Mrema said.

They also highlight both a friction in intra-African interests and increased collaboration.

At the CoP17 South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia jointly called to sell ivory stockpiles, one-off permission which Mrema explains was previously given in 1989 and in 1997, under extremely tight regulation.

The proposal was rejected, however, with West and Central African countries, in particular, objecting that “any sort of trade opens up to illegal trafficking and trade”.

While Africa may not see eye-to-eye on ivory trade, Mrema said the continent was increasingly taking a longer-term, regional view. Ahead of CITES, African countries met to discuss on which they agreed and disagreed, she said.

Sticking points were elephants and rhino. Common ground was the need to manage wildlife sustainably. There are issues Africa needs to deal with together, said Kenya-based Mrema.

These include issues of enforcement, monitoring and local communities. The latter is being pushed at CoP17 by Africa, which proposed the establishment of a permanent committee under CITES to deal with local community issues.

The proposal was rejected for reasons around finance and fears of diluting CITES’ focus on species.

“South Africa, and the whole of the Southern Africa Development Community, has been very vocal on the role of local communities [and] how we support local communities so they also support us in the management of wildlife,” said Mrema.

“All agree that local communities have a role. Yes, they are important, but outside CITES.”

– African News Agency

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