40 Years of the CITES Convention

When the whole world flooded, the Prophet Noah led the animals in pairs to the Ark. This included not only farm animals, but also those from the wild. Unlike the time of Noah, in the modern era the main threat to the preservation of wild flora and fauna are the unlimited demands of the global marketplace. Increasingly sophisticated means of transportation and communications technologies between countries have provided their own incentives for various types of international trade in animals and plants and the products derived from them, such as processed foods, animal skins, wooden carvings, ingredients for medicines, decorative materials, and tourist souvenirs. This has encouraged large-scale exploitation that is in some cases leading to the extinction of species.

Species extinction, according to the economists Pearce and Turner (1990), is caused by several factors, namely harvesting that is carried out at very low cost (discount rate) through very high rates of species hunting and capture, a lack of common property, and open access.

In order to avoid such extinctions, on March 3, 1973 (40 years ago), 80 countries agreed to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This convention is aimed at protecting flora and fauna in the wild from international trade that threatens species preservation.

All of the export, import, re-export, and introduction of species activities listed in the Appendices of CITES must obtain permission from the CITES management authority and the recommendation of the CITES scientific authority in the country in question. The CITES Appendices consist of a list of species that are banned in all forms of international trade (Appendix 1), a list of species that are limited in international trade (Appendix 2), and a list of species that are protected in certain countries (Appendix 3). Some examples of marine life found in Appendix 1 are sea turtles, whales, manatees, and dolphins.

CITES is deemed to be the most successful international agreement relating to the conservation of rare animals, because none of the endangered species under its protection have ever gone extinct. Even so, this does not mean that the international trade in wild fauna has stopped, with a black market having now emerged, run by an organized crime syndicate dealing in wild animals. National Geographic has documented some the syndicate's activities which have been foiled over the past few years, including the interception of the smuggling of otters at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, hummingbirds at Guyana Airport in France, crocodiles at a domestic airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reptiles and spiders in Argentina, and tropical fish in Melbourne.

It is recognized that the smuggling of some species of wild animals still occurs, escaping the notice of authorities. However, the exact numbers associated with this are unknown. The American Government suspects that the total value of the trade exceeds 10 million dollars annually, with this figure based on a surface analysis alone.

In order to overcome the illegal trade in protected animals, the Secretary General of CITES recently carried out 'Operation Cobra', in collaboration with countries in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. This operation, which lasted a month (January 6 - February 5, 2013), resulted in the arrest of hundreds of people, the confiscation of various types of wild animals, some of which were endangered species, as well as weapons and ammunition.

Indonesian Context

Indonesia was one of the countries involved in Operation Cobra, keeping in mind that as a country it has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Indonesia has also ratified CITES through Presidential Decree No. 43 of 1978. As a ratifying nation, Indonesia is among the parties with the right to attend the Conference of the Parties or COP, which is held every two or three years.

The Indonesian government has appointed the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) as the scientific authority and the Ministry of Forestry as the management authority since 1999. However, over time, with its formation the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries was also named as a CITES management authority based on Government Regulation No. 60 of 2007 on the Conservation of Fish Resources.

The effort to protect species in Indonesia often encounters a dilemma when it comes to balancing economic and conservation interests. This conflict is exacerbated by the fact that it is often the little people who are involved in catching activities, who are seen as a social group that requires protection from the state. When the authorities take legal action against this group, the public reacts by raising the issue of human rights. However, if no steps are taken, the authorities are accused of allowing it to happen, and of not enforcing the law.

This dilemma aside, a new approach is needed to protect wild flora and fauna in Indonesia, with one part of this being to revitalize local wisdom. For centuries, local wisdom has proven capable of preserving wild animals and plants, whether through regulating access to habitats or limiting catches of certain species. Such wisdom is still alive, including with the 'Sasi' in Maluku and Papua, the 'Panglima Laot' in Aceh, and the 'Awig-Awig' in Bali and Nusa Tenggara.

One basic approach that needs to be taken is through the national education system. At present the Ministry of Education and Culture is formulating the curriculum for 2013. Education is very important in forming the attitudes and mindsets of the nation's youth in regards to wild flora and fauna. In developed nations, children do not disturb birds flying around cities, while in Indonesia birds that land on trees or electrical cables are the targets of throwing stones or slingshots. This indicates an essential difference between educated children and those who do not understand the importance of preserving wildlife.

Other approaches need to be taken so that the responsibility for species protection is not only borne by government, but also by other stakeholders. In essence, the nation's resources need to be maximized to avoid the disappearance of species. After all, as the biologist Wilson (1980) says, species extinction is not something that will be excused or forgiven by future generations.

Source: Roni Megawanto (MPAG)


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