Photo from CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) held their Conference of the Parties for the 16th time at the beginning of this month in Bangkok. As an international agreement between governments, CITES ensures that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. So, in simple terms, CITES is where global wildlife decisions are made. The Conference of Parties only meets every two to three years. Attended by both representatives from member states and observers this is the organization’s opportunity to discuss current problems and successes. This year’s meeting, however, was extra special because it was also the first global meeting of wildlife enforcement networks, covering topics of regional enforcement capacity and cooperative response to threats posed by wildlife criminal networks. Wildlife crime is transnational organized crime (TOC), just like human-trafficking, the drug cartel, or the mafia. And, fighting this type of crime proves to be quite difficult, as it is with all TOCs, not only because of the level of organization within the network itself, but due to poor country to country enforcement communication and differences in laws and regulations guarding wildlife. For example, the legal hunting season for wolves in Canada is April –September while, the much shorter hunting season in the United States, may not begin until October. And, due to close hunting seasons and close proximity, an illegally hunted animal could be transported to another continent “legally” if regulations in one country or the other are not strictly followed.
Photo from The Verge
Conservation genetics is making an appearance in the fight against wildlife crime as well. Using forensic techniques, biological samples can not only identify a species, but also what region it may have come from. This month, CITES passed a measure which requires all 178 member countries to submit seized ivory for DNA testing. This is all part of a renewed effort to crack down on the criminal networks behind elephant poaching, which has doubled since 2007 and more than tripled over the past 15 years. Using specific genetic patterns which correlate to regions where African elephants exist, the technique, developed by Dr. Sam Wasser at UDUB (WOOF!), can pinpoint the seized ivory to within 165 miles of its place of origin, enabling them to locate the source of illicit trade. Although the technique isn’t perfect, requiring large samples of at least 500 kilograms ivory, all involved are optimistic about these beginning efforts to bring poaching to an end.
And on a side not, if Hilary were to try running for President again, this would be a good reason to support her:
"Secretary Clinton’s ‘Call for Action’ on illegal wildlife trade"