CITES and Trophy Hunters; will wildlife come out on top?

8 Jul 2022
Yesterday the Intergroup on Animal Welfare took a deep dive into the EU’s priorities for the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CITES COP19).

CITES (the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) is an international agreement to regulate the trade of wild animals and plants so as not to threaten the survival of the species. The EU plays a large role in CITES due to its voting power and import. 

Daniela Freyer, Coordinator Species Survival Network, European Regional Bureau, Pro Wildlife, kicked off yesterday’s discussions with a fantastic presentation on what the EU should focus on as its priorities for CITES COP19. Ms Freyer focused on issues such as the need to stop the capturing of wild elephants for zoos as well as the need for the EU to support the working document that connects CITES to zoonotic diseases associated with wildlife trade. 

Zoning in specifically on the role the European Parliament can play, she advised that the Parliament send an MEP delegation to COP19, and also noted that the Parliament has the ability to adopt a positive list of wild animals that can legally be kept as pets. This is something that can be justified from an animal welfare, biodiversity, public health and conservation perspective, thus largely contributing to improving issues relevant to CITES.  

Jorge Rodríguez Romero, Deputy Head of Unit, Multilateral Environment Cooperation, DG Environment, European Commission, shared the Commission’s priorities for COP19. He honed in on the issue of trade in elephants, noting that the EU wants rules that are more robust, transparent and scientifically based. He hopes that an agreement can be reached at COP19, however it is quite a divisive matter among African countries and there will be a need for a discussion that is widely supported. 

MEP Ville Niinsto, the Co-rapporteur on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group on the ENVI-Draft Motion for Resolution on the EU Strategic objectives for CITES COP19, intervened with a reminder to the Commission of some of the key asks in the motion for resolution, such as the need to support fully Appendix I of CITES, and to actively advocate the inclusion of all African elephants in Appendix I of CITES. 

The Intergroup moved its focus away from CITES and on to another relevant, yet contentious issue in relation to our beautiful wildlife; trophy hunting. “Contentious” being perhaps a slightly surprising term here, considering 80% of EU citizens oppose trophy hunting. Nonetheless, those in the minority continue to take part in the activity and Dr Joanna Swabe, Senior Director of Public Affairs for Humane Society International, Europe, explored the possibility of and reasons for strengthening the EU regime for the import of hunting trophies. 

According to Dr Swabe, trophy hunting tries to pull on our white heartstrings by claiming that it benefits local communities in Africa, however funds from trophy hunting elephants tend to remain wealthy operators, and due to the lack of transparency and regulation, it is difficult to say who else really benefits from it. 

In relation to importing hunting trophies, when issuing an import permit, you must verify that the hunting trophy is not detrimental to the species concerned. Unfortunately the process is non-transparent and very difficult to ensure it is based on science, thus according to Dr Swabe, the EU is not actually in a position to ascertain that most trophy hunting imports are not detrimental to the conservation of the species. You can view her presentation in full here

The EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking is the place to change this, particularly considering the distinct link between illegal wildlife trade and trophy hunting. Mr Rodriguez ensured the Intergroup that the Commission is keen to further regulate and improve this issue. The Commission is also fully aware of the joint position paper by a number of NGOs on Trophy Hunting. 

MEP Anja Hazekamp (The Left, NL) gave the closing remarks to the session. As an initiator of the ENVI-draft motion for a resolution on CITES COP19, she is keen to ensure a strong position from the European Parliament. She reminded us that from an animal welfare and public health perspective, we must stop the exploitation of many species and help to save and restore biodiversity.