September the 24th, 2016 was a memorable day for me: my first time up the Eiffel Tower, my first time witnessing the beautifully artistic streets of Paris, and definitely my first time experiencing high percentage Belgian beer! We’d arrived from all over; England, Belgium, France and Australia (via Italy), convening in Saint-Denis for a weekend of catching up and sight seeing. But there was always an underlying reason for picking this weekend – The Global March for Elephants & Rhinos.
On this weekend in 130 cities across the world, from Paris to Buenos Aires, marches were held to highlight the desperate plights of elephants and rhinos. Walking with your best friends, all whom you met on conservation projects in South Africa, seemed only right. And with CITES CoP17 happening between September the 24th and October the 5th, the marches provided a timely reminder to policy makers of the situation; that over the last 3 years over 100,000 elephants have been killed and all rhino species are expected to become extinct within the next decade.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international trade agreement between governments, which regulates the trade of endangered species, placing them on one of three appendices depending on how much protection they need. Species in appendix I cannot be traded whereas species in appendix II are carefully regulated to stop them becoming threatened with extinction. Species are put in appendix III if a particular country needs assistance in regulating its trade in that species. At CoP17, species were reviewed to see what appendix they should be placed in and naturally, we watched closely.
Photo credits: Flickr
As results filtered out, our group went into overdrive, discussing every result, every implication. Elephants remained on appendix II, blocked by the EU from entering appendix I. What did this mean? Surely banning all trade would help identify poached ivory and make it easier to stop it? Rhino horn trade was still illegal. This seemed good, but if it was legal could we not sell all the horn and invest the profits in their protection? But surely that would open up the market to rhino horn, something where the supply just couldn’t keep up with the demand? As every point was analysed, we seemed to get into the same depressive spiral of not really knowing what to do, swearing in frustration at how humankind can make such a mess.
Until Sarah, a brilliantly-minded conservationist said out of the blue, “Guys, as much as this stuff is depressing, don’t forget what has been achieved in conservation this year.” And she was absolutely right. With seemingly insurmountable challenges facing us, we forget the victories that keep us going.
In 2016, wild tiger numbers increased for the first time in over 100 years, giant panda numbers have increased by 16.8% over the last decade, meaning they are no longer classified as endangered, and West Indian manatee numbers have grown from 1267 in 1991 to 6300 today. Barack Obama created the largest protected area ever, a marine reserve more than half a million square miles off Hawaii, and permanently banned oil drilling in the vast majority of US owned northern waters. And just as 2016 came to an end, China announced they would ban all domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. It is successes like these that give us hope and should help keep us positive.
Of course it can be hard, but judging from my conservation experiences, positivity can easily be lost altogether – I am guilty of this myself! Without optimism and by not celebrating victories, no matter how big or small, belief can soon disappear. It is this belief that is vital to conservation success in the future and whatever happens, we can’t afford to lose it.