U.S. Leadership at International Convention Supports Conservation Gains for Wildlife and Plant Species Throughout the World

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Press Release, August 28, 2019

U.S. government leaders, working tirelessly with more than 150 nations, recently forged critical agreements supporting conservation of wildlife and plant species subject to international trade. The 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the world’s most important meeting on wildlife trade, occurring every two to three years. From combating wildlife trafficking to protecting iconic and lesser-known species while supporting their sustainable and legal use, the U.S. delegation achieved agreement on a vast array of pressing international wildlife and plant trade and conservation issues.

The U.S. government delegation for the CoP, held in Geneva, Switzerland, Aug. 17-28, 2019, was led by Robert Wallace, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Margaret Everson, Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other delegation members included representatives of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, as well as committee staff from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of the 18th CoP,” said Wallace. “I believe we moved our conservation goals forward and also reduced regulatory burdens on industry and government with these agreements. It was a privilege to head this impressive delegation and to witness the collaboration between government agencies, non-government organization partners and their international counterparts,” he said.

“It has been uplifting to see the collaboration and cooperation between the Parties as we worked together on some very challenging issues to achieve goals of mutual benefit to all of us,” said Everson on the last day of the Conference. “The work we do together is critical to both economic and wildlife health around the world.”

Going into the Conference, the United States co-sponsored proposals to protect five fascinating wildlife species not well known to the American public. All five of the United States co-sponsored proposals were adopted by the CoP. The U.S. proposals included:

  • Saiga antelope: The United States proposal, which was amended in Committee, will prohibit commercial exports from wild saiga antelope that are traded as commercial specimens. The proposal responds to an 80-percent decline in saiga populations in the last 30 years, with threats from illegal and unsustainable trade. Male saiga are targeted and killed for their horns, which are smuggled to other countries and sold for use in traditional eastern medicine.
  • Sea cucumbers (teatfish): The United States proposal will provide new protections for three species of sea cucumbers, also known as teatfish. These species are among the most fished sea cucumbers in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. Their high commercial value and ease of capture encourage over-exploitation, and their populations are vulnerable. Adoption of this proposal will enable CITES countries to sustainably manage their trade to ensure livelihoods of local communities dependent on this fishery.
  • Tokay gecko: The United States proposal will provide the tokay gecko new protections to help prevent overharvest from the wild for the international pet and eastern medicine trade, which is considered the principal cause of declines. The listing will help mitigate threats associated with trade and ensure sustainable use and legal international trade.
  • Pancake tortoise: The United States proposal will provide the highest level of CITES protections for the pancake tortoise. This species is highly desired but over exploited in the international pet trade. Evidence shows when protections for freshwater turtles and tortoises are strengthened in one region, demand in other regions for unprotected species increases. The United States supports a strategic, global approach to freshwater turtle and tortoise conservation to stay ahead of this trend and curb this boom-and-bust cycle.
  • Parachute/tarantula/ornamental spiders: The United States proposal will provide new protections for an entire genus of parachute, tarantula and ornamental spiders. These spiders are a type of arboreal tarantula native to Sri Lanka and India and are popular in the pet trade. These new protections will help ensure all trade is legal and sustainable.

In other outcomes from the Conference, the United States supported a proposal that will provide a mechanism to regulate and monitor trade in giraffes to ensure trade is not detrimental to the species’ survival. This action will help regulate trade to ensure healthy giraffe populations throughout Africa in the long term.

Of interest to musicians and the music industry, the United States supported a proposal that will reduce the current regulatory burden on the industry regarding the import of certain species of rosewood, which is used in the manufacture of some guitars, other instruments and furniture.

The United States also remained strong on wildlife trafficking and illegal wildlife trade and pushed for decisions addressing elephants and ivory, rhinos, African grey parrots, pangolins, Asian big cats, jaguar and timber.  Additionally, the United States advocated for and achieved resolutions and decisions that reduce regulatory burden, such as streamlined permitting.

The United States supported strong measures to enforce CITES provisions to fight illegal harvest and international trade in totoaba and protect the critically endangered vaquita. The totoaba, a large marine finfish endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California in Mexico, has been listed in CITES Appendix I since 1977. The totoaba swim bladder is highly prized for use in traditional medicine in Asia. Vaquita are also an Appendix I species, and both the totoaba and vaquita are classified as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The fate of these two species is linked, as vaquita are caught and drown in illegal gill nets set for totoaba. Vaquita are currently estimated to number fewer than 20 individuals.

The United States began its public process to gather and evaluate information related to species involved in international trade and improving implementation of the Convention more than two years ago, culminating in the submission of 11 documents the United States advanced or co-sponsored to be considered by CITES member countries at the meeting.

For more information about the CoP and its outcomes, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/international/cites/cop18/index.html