19th CITES Conference of the Parties in Panama – What was in it for Aquariums and Zoos?

Posted: 2 December 2022

Between 14-25 November 2022, the Nineteenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) took place in Panama City, Panama. 

A reminder of what is CITES

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments helping to fight the extinction crisis through wildlife trade regulations. It advocates for the sustainable use of wildlife and the conservation of wild species.

There are around 38,700 species protected by CITES which includes roughly 5,950 species of animals and 32,800 species of plants. Species are listed on one of three Appendices (I, II or III), with trade in those listed on Appendix I the most tightly regulated.  

CITES CoP19 and representation of the zoos and aquariums

An estimated 2,500 attendees, including 170 of the 184 parties (signatory countries), representatives of intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and from the private sector joined to discuss proposals that conserve species through sustainable and traceable international trade.

With over 30 delegates representing zoos and aquariums, the CITES CoP19 has seen an increase in the number of representatives from the global zoo and aquarium community.

Among the registered delegations that provided expertise through working groups leading to this CoP were: the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA), San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Species360, Taronga Wildlife Society, Zoological Society of London (WAZA member, London Zoo) and Wildlife Conservation Society (with Bronx Zoo as WAZA member).

The different WAZA members presented their views and perspectives about a range of matters discussed through interventions during plenary sessions, side-events, contribution to working groups discussion, and providing feedback in stakeholders meetings. 

©EAZA and Species360

What were some of the key results for zoos and aquariums at this CITES CoP:

Increased protection for two species of songbirds:

The IUCN Red list Critically Endangered straw-headed bulbul is now listed under CITES Appendix I and the Least Concern white-rumped shama is now listed in the CITES Appendix II. In practice, this means that all international commercial trade in the straw-headed bulbul is now prohibited, and all international trade for the white-rumped shama is now regulated and monitored to ensure that it does not threaten wild populations. Zoological organisations from the United States, Europe, and Singapore contributed to creating an understanding about the need to adopt these measures. The listing of species at CITES needs to be led by at least one party, and in this case, the listing was led by Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States of America. This is a landmark as just over 1% of songbirds are CITES listed, and actions promised at the previous CoP in 2018 did not gain momentum.

EAZA in colaboration with Species360 also organised the Silent Forest – Songbird Trade Side Event, that allowed CITES Parties and Observer organisations to learn more about the songbird trade and create an opportunity to meet and discuss songbird trade research and conservation. Speakers shared current songbird trade research, mentioned in CoP19 Doc. 74, that can be used to support the CITES decision-making process. There was particular emphasis on the need for more research and data collection, which would enable stronger evidence-based decisions in the future.

WAZA celebrates this decision as well as all the members and partners that made this possible. 

Listing of requiem and hammerhead sharks:  

Another landmark decision reached during CITES was that 54 species of requiem sharks, six species of hammerhead sharks and 37 species of guitarfish were included on Appendix II of CITES. In the future, international trade in them will only be permitted if the stocks of sharks and rays are not endangered. This is crucial as some shark species have seen their numbers decline by up to 70% in the past 50 years. The measures apply to the requiem shark family including tiger sharks, and six small hammerhead sharks. The inclusion of these species in Appendix II will bring the majority of the shark fin trade under this regulation, which helps ensure that their trade is sustainable and legal.

CITES CoP19 adopted numerous inclusions of reptiles and amphibian species, including 21 listing applications for trade in live animals. Four of the submitted applications came from the EU, including two proposals drawn up by Germany on listing the endangered Lao warty newt (Laotriton laoensis) endemic to Laos and the heavily traded Chinese water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus).

In addition to these decisions, other crucial agreements were reached during the CITES CoP in Panama. In order to reduce the trade of exotic animals as pets, protections for glass frogs were also increased by listing them in Appendix II. This is a vital decision as the IUCN Red List currently lists 10 species of glass frogs as Critically Endangered, 28 as Endangered, and 21 as Vulnerable.

Purpose codes on CITES permits and certificates: definition of code Zoo

After months of work through participation of AZA, EAZA, and WAZA in an intersessional working group, the definition of the code Z (Zoo) among other amendements for our purpose code definitions, was amended and approved. It is vital to be an active participant of discussion where our profession is defined.

CITES role to help the prevention of future pandemics 

The 184 CITES member governments have committed to a new policy to define the role international plants and animal trade policies can play to prevent future pandemics. Members of global our zoos and aquariums community remain available to help in this mission.

Decision of process to define appropriate and acceptable destinations

There was agreement to define a process that will allow the importing country to evaluate its satisfaction about the suitability of a receipient to house and care for African elephants, and for both the importing and exporting country to decide if the trade would promote in situ conservation has been agreed.

©Andreas Kaufmann

Side-events

WAZA members also led a record number of side-events (zoos and aquariums have never hosted so many side events at a CITES CoP). The 5 side-events were: 

  • Novel forensic tool to combat illegal wildlife trade: Using elemental analysis of animal keratin to determine provenance (Taronga Conservation Society Australia – by WAZA member Taronga Zoo)
  • Silent Forest – Songbird Trade Side Event (EAZA and Species 360)
  • Reverse the Red: Community engagement as a tool for CITES (IUCN SSC and WAZA)
  • Ornamental fishes, Sharks and Rays : Opportunities and challenges to support CITES (Species 360 and WAZA)
  • Captive care and Conservation (San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance / AZA)
©Andreas Kaufmann

As Craig Hoover, AZA’s Executive Vice-President and former member of the U.S. delegations at CITES shared through closing remarks on behalf of the community of zoos and aquariums represented at CITES CoP 19:

“We are grateful to provide support for many important, science-based decisions here at CoP19, such as the listings of numerous species of sharks and turtles, and the advancement of songbird and ornamental fish conservation. We stand ready to support the Animals Committee, Standing Committee, the Secretariat, and the CITES Parties to advance these important outcomes of CoP19. As you know, the end of a CoP is also a beginning of important conservation work to come. We are here to serve.”

WAZA is proud to have represented its members at this CoP19 in Panama, to support and faciliate the side events while also ensuring that the global zoo and aquarium community had a greater presence at this Conference. Zoos and aquariums and their role in conservation and animal welfare cannot be understated and so we look forward to WAZA playing a greater role in advocating for these causes at international forums going forward, by working more closely with the CITES Secretariat and through the intersessional working group.  

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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