Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals: Powerful Protections or Paper Tigers?

Candice Gaukel Andrews November 11, 2014 13
Unfortunately, at the recent CMS conference, the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears were not given the highest level of protection. ©Henry H. Holdsworth

Unfortunately, at the recent CMS conference, the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears were not given the highest level of protection. ©Henry H. Holdsworth

From the tiny monarch butterfly to the immense wildebeest of Africa, many of the world’s animal species take on great migrations. Those epic travels may involve seasonal journeys of thousands of miles, traversing multiple countries. For them, our human political boundaries have no meaning. That’s why the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) was created. It requires its 120 signatory nations to either put in place conservation strategies to sustainably manage migratory populations, or — in the case of endangered species — ensure there is no taking.

The most recent meeting of the convention was held in Ecuador. It ended on Sunday, November 9, 2014. More than thirty-one species were approved for greater conservation measures.

But with so much current political unrest and resultant lack of wildlife oversight in so many of the CMS countries, are these international agreements just “paper protections”?

Addressing threats from entertainment, lead, and wind — but leaving lions in the lurch

More than 700 representatives from 119 countries were in attendance at the 11th United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals conference that recently took place in Quito, Ecuador. Held every three years, the CMS conference seeks to develop internationally recognized public policies and coordinate conservation measures among nations to protect migratory animals and their habitats. Some of this year’s conference agreements were:

The annual monarch butterfly migration is epic, with travels from Mexico to Manitoba. ©John H. Gaukel

The annual monarch butterfly migration is epic, with travels from Mexico to Manitoba. ©John H. Gaukel

  • The top level of protection, Appendix I, was issued for the Cuvier’s beaked-whale (Ziphius cavirostris), a rarely seen cetacean that dives as deep as 1.86 miles below the water’s surface.
  • Nations will work to pass laws to ban the capture of live whales and dolphins for use in entertainment venues and traveling shows.
  • Nations agreed to new protections for rays and sharks, especially for stopping the practice of finning, where sharks are caught and their fins cut off for use in soups in China.
  • The use of lead ammunition should be decreased to stop the poisoning of migrating birds (although the United Kingdom opposed this move).
  • For the first time, guidelines were established on how best to protect birds and bats from wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.

Unfortunately, polar bears, which have been recognized worldwide as in grave peril of going extinct, were not given the highest level of protection at the conference. The Norwegian proposal to safeguard the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears garnered the animals only an Appendix II listing, which means that countries must work together to put in place conservation plans; as opposed to the stronger Appendix I listing, which requires strict protections, such as bans on hunting.

A proposal to list the African lion was rejected due to a lack of data.

Signing papers — while illegal charcoal sales and poaching continue

A proposal to list the African lion was rejected due to a lack of data. ©Eric Rock

A proposal to list the African lion was rejected due to a lack of data. ©Eric Rock

Today, wildlife crime is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion per year. And it’s growing at a pace never before seen in recent history. A lot of it is due to political unrest and terrorist activities throughout the world.

For example, in East Africa, the illegal charcoal trade is having a major impact on fragile ecosystems, threatening the homes of birds and terrestrial mammals. Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group responsible for the West Gate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013, is financing its activities with proceeds from illegal charcoal sales, and the scale of habitat loss has been reported as “alarming.”

Last year, in northern Uganda, members of the Lords Resistance Army hunted down elephants and used their tusks to buy weapons and support their terrorist activities; and in Kenya, al-Shabaab is reported to have killed as many as two elephants every week in protected parks.

The November CMS conference culminated with the delegates signing a declaration, as well as with some new agreements that range from legally binding treaties to memoranda of understanding. While some say the convention can be a powerful vehicle that countries can use to beef up enforcement, increase pressure for stronger legislation, and work to combat wildlife crime, with so many of the signatory nations being war-torn and resource poor, I wonder who will be there to see that these promises are carried out.

Do you think the CMS conference results will prove to be a protective force for the world’s migratory species against escalating threats, or are they just more paper tigers?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

13 Comments »

  1. Bijoy Venugopal March 9, 2015 at 4:58 am - Reply

    Tragically, it’s going to be a lot harder in India, where a right-wing government has the reins, to make space for wildlife. Every government decision made in the past 10 months has potential to wreak irreversible doom for the environment.

  2. Kathy Stevens March 2, 2015 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Regulations never make a difference in the end, it is only the enforcers who create the needed changes. This said, who would have thought only a few years ago that any such agreement could be reached. There is always hope!

  3. Lawan Bukar Marguba November 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Yes, the Convention as well as the legislation are making a huge difference in many countries and on the protection of many species. The legislation in particular have been used by many countries, including my own Nigeria to arrest and prosecute many offenders until the outbreak of the insurgency, Boko Haram in the Northeastern part of the country.

  4. Dr.UN Nandakumar November 16, 2014 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Making the Nations to implement all non-legally binding instruments is a crucial issue in promoting conservation and sustainable development. Unless serious efforts are made to implement & enforce international laws, conventions, treaties, acts, rules all these instruments, whether it is legal or non-legal, will remain as paper tigers!

  5. Todd Masse November 16, 2014 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Action has to speak louder than words. All you have are folks with warm-and-fuzzy hearts. The impetus has to be from the host nations where the endangered habitats or species exist. Unfortunately, many habitats are compromised by international affairs, which makes the task much more difficult.

  6. John Baker November 13, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Seems more of a paper tiger. Countries like the US already have rules and are noted for not following international reg. unless they can get something out of it.

  7. Ahmad Mahdavi November 13, 2014 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Dear Candice:
    Thank you very much for bringing this important issue up. I already like and liked the Nature Traveler on Facebook, it is excellent. About the CMS convention in Quito I was also invited because I am a member of the CMS poisoning (most for birds) but unfortunately they did not support my participation, I as an ecotoxicologist had to be there. The big problem of these conventions is that they support only governmental agents and not NGOs and I am a NGO. As you mentioned I do not think that COP11 can make so much difference to save endangered species and biodiversity and one big problem is lack of participation of real nature lover NGOs. They were sending me all information online, in fact very good information that I hope eventually help to save animals on this polluted planet and they also asked for help for more information about pesticide effects on bird species.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews November 13, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Ahmad,

      Thank you for liking Nature Traveler on Facebook.

      It sounds like although you didn’t get support at the convention, you are still making a difference by providing information on the effects of pesticides on birds. We need your good works!

  8. Venkatasamy Ramakrishna November 13, 2014 at 11:40 am - Reply

    700 representatives, all with good intentions Candice, but as also mentioned there are many more others out there whose actions directly affect species. They are difficult to reach, and difficult to convince. So, to my mind, there is a lot more to do.

  9. Jared McDaniel November 12, 2014 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    I hope they make a difference. 🙂

  10. Saul Greenland November 12, 2014 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Hi Candy,

    Thank you for your piece on the convention of migratory species. In answer to your question ‘Do you think the CMS conference results will prove to be a protective force for the world’s migratory species against escalating threats, or are they just more paper tigers?’. I think its a step in the right direction. A lot of the time it is just hot air and feel good commitments which we have seen a lot of in the past carbon reduction is a good example. But a body that overseas cross boarder co-operation is something that we really need. It is difficult for a country to justify conservation of an animal if its likely to walk next door to be killed.

    At WTM this year there was a lot of talk about terrorism which many do not consider. Hopefully this will open peoples eyes to other related problems like the illegal charcoal trade which I had never considered an issue.

    cheers

  11. John H. Gaukel November 11, 2014 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately with political unrest and the large amounts of money being made from poaching, versus, the money it will take to protect those endangered species, the CMS results are just more paper tigers.

  12. John Daly November 11, 2014 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for keeping us aware of so many issues you post for us.

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