The world has been confronted by illegal wildlife trade for decades, but the recent spike in the scale and change in the nature of this illicit activity have markedly exacerbated the severity of its impacts. These far-reaching consequences are particularly evident for the illegal ivory trade--a crime that has not only had a devastating impact on African elephants, but also threatens people and their livelihoods, economies and, in some cases, national and regional security. Fortunately, the international community is awakening to the serious nature of wildlife crime (1) and is determined to work together to end this illicit trade.
Eight countries (2) are considered pivotal to global efforts to combat illegal ivory trade, representing the key range States, transit points and destination markets. These countries are at the center of collaborative and practical action to conserve African elephants, undertaken under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In 2013, each of these States--upon recommendation of the CITES Standing Committee and following the adoption of decisive measures to combat wildlife crime at the 16th meeting of CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP16) (3)--developed a national ivory action plan outlining the urgent measures that it would undertake to combat illegal trade in ivory. In July 2014, the Standing Corrunittee gathered for its 65th meeting to evaluate implementation of these plans, marking the first assessment of their effectiveness.
In the review process, the Standing Committee found that ivory action plans had provided a catalyst for a diverse range of national initiatives and international cooperation. New wildlife legislation had been enacted in Kenya and progressed in other countries, strengthening mandates and increasing penalties to provide a more effective deterrent to would-be offenders; enforcement efforts had been enhanced, including the establishment of cross-agency task forces in the Philippines and Uganda, and an increase in enforcement capacity, most notably in the United Republic of Tanzania, where efforts to recruit 1,000 game scouts were well underway; and the use of modern technologies had also been expanded, including greater implementation of DNA analysis to identify the origins of seized ivory and support efforts to trace sophisticated criminal networks behind ivory smuggling.
While much more needs to be done to combat illegal ivory trade, these results demonstrate the practical potential of action plans in helping nations to combat wildlife crime. The use of action plans has subsequently been broadened to cover more countries involved in the illegal ivory trade, and adopted as a tool to reduce the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn. (4) This is just one example of how CITES is strengthening front-line action to respond to wildlife crime, as part of its broader mandate to ensure that international trade in wildlife is sustainable, legal and traceable.
With 180 States (called Parties) signatory to the Convention, CITES is the principal instrument in regulating international trade in wildlife. Over 35,000 species of wild plants and animals are listed in its three Appendices, (5) each corresponding to differing levels of trade control to ensure that trade is not detrimental to the survival of species in the wild. CITES Trade Database (6) includes over 14 million legal trade transactions, indicating the extent of sustainable use regulated through the Convention. This important role of CITES as a regulating body operating at the "intersection between trade, the environment and development" was recognized by Governments...