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June 2023 OPA CITES Report

The Thirty-second meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) met in Geneva, Switzerland from June 19-23, 2023.  

The OPA attended as an NGO observer as part of the U.S. delegation. The meeting was attended by 47 countries and 62 NGO/IGO observers. Notable observers included BirdLife International, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Force, Dallas Safari Club, Defenders of Wildlife, European Pet Organization, Foundation Franz Weber, German Society of Herpetology, Humane 
Society International, IWMC-World Conservation Trust, National Association for Biomedical Research, Organization of Professional Aviculturists, Ornamental Fish International, Parrot Breeders Association of Southern Africa, Pet Advocacy Network, Pro Wildlife, Safari Club International, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, SUCO-sa (Sustainable Use Coalition South Africa), Sustainable Users Network, Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Of the many topics discussed there were three highlights from the committee meeting:

1)    Role of CITES in reducing the risk of future zoonotic disease emergence associated with international wildlife trade.

This topic has been raised repeatedly at CITES meetings since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concern raised by parties to the CITES and NGO observers is that CITES should take an active role in combating the risk of possible future zoonotic pandemics. This position has been vigorously championed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Sue Lieberman. The hope is that CITES will take an active role in regulating and restricting trade that may create a zoonotic disease risk. While there is definitely support for such action within CITES, there also has been and continues to be significant pushback. The most common argument in opposition to such actions is that zoonotic disease is not within the mandate of CITES because it is not directly related to trade and the conservation of wildlife. Likewise, many of the potential likely sources of zoonotic disease, such as wet markets (COVID) and bushmeat (HIV) are domestic matters which CITES has no authority over.

That said, an intersessional working group was formed on the topic with a mandate to review the information provided by Parties, organizations, and the United Nations Environment Programme and prepare recommendations for consideration by the Animals Committee at its 33rd meeting. Specifically, relating to a) proposed effective and practical solutions for reducing pathogen spillover risk in wildlife supply chains; and b) opportunities for practical collaboration under the direction of existing Resolutions, Decisions, and agreements.

 The OPA is part of this intersessional working group and will represent the interest of aviculture.

 2)    Review of trade in animal specimens reported as produced in captivity. 

One of the regular activities of the Animals Committee is to conduct regular trade reviews through a formulaic process. As a result, 190 species and 267 species/country combinations were selected as potential candidates for trade review of captive-bred species. Of those, 78 species of birds were on the list and they had been selected primarily due to concerns over the legal acquisition of the breeding stock. These concerns arose from the fact that little or no data was available to indicate when the species first entered the country that was reporting the captive breeding. Of the 24 species that were ultimately selected for trade review, only two bird species were selected Macqueen’s bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii) from Kazakhstan and Houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) from Morocco. Both these species are terrestrial birds that are commonly targeted as prey species by falconers in North Africa and the Middle East. As a result, both species have seen sharp declines in their wild populations.
Both Morrocco and Kazakhstan are reporting large exports of captive-bred specimens, the trade review will seek to confirm that these exports are legitimate captive-bred specimens. Notably, the UAE was also preliminarily selected for trade review due to their high volume of exports of Macqueen’s bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii), however, the UAE was ultimately removed from review after presenting information that they have established a state-of-the-art breeding center for the species for the purpose of repopulation.  

Of note, specifically in the context of birds, the concerns around captive-bred specimens centered on the lack of documentation of the legal acquisition of breeding stock for these species. Australia in particular was concerned that its endemic species were being bred outside of Australia because in its opinion it has never legally exported several of its species. Within the context of South Africa, PASA was able to establish that many Australian species arrived and were bred in South Africa before CITES and before the Australian export ban.  

OPA also worked with PASA to remove Wreathed hornbills (Rhyticerus undulatus) from the trade review following the discovery that a reported export of 50 captive-bred specimens from South Africa was a reporting error.

3)    Review Of Significant Trade In Specimens Of Appendix-II Species.

Like the overview of captive-bred trade, the Animals Committee also conducts regular trade reviews through a formulaic process, of the trade in Appendix-II species, that are not captive-bred. Some species that have ongoing reviews include the Vasa parrot from Madagascar, the Brown-necked parrot from DRC, Crowned cranes from Tanzania, Festive amazon from Guyana, Mealy amazon from Guyana, and Suriname, Jardine’s parrot from DRC, and Macaws from Guyana and Suriname. 

Of the hundreds of potential species country combinations that were considered for review, only one bird species was ultimately selected for review, Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) from Jordan due to a small number of birds being removed from the wild yearly. In the opinion of OPA, this species should not have been selected, but remained because Jordan was not present to challenge the selection.  The Grey Crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) from DRC was almost selected for review but, DRC informed the Animals Committee that they would publish a zero quota on the species, and as a result, the species was dropped from review. The matter of the illegal trade of African Grey parrots was briefly raised, but was dropped as issues of illegal trade are within the purview of the Standing Committee, not the Animals Committee.  

4)    Songbird trade and conservation management (Passeriformes spp.).

The final issue of note is that CITES is moving forward with a workshop on the trade of songbirds, such as tanagers, finches, shamas, etc. The goal of this workshop is to collect and review data on the trade in such species. Currently, the workshop is focused on the “Asian” trade in such species. However, the U.S. and NGOs, like WCS, have emphasized that they want a review of American trade as well. Both the USFWS and WCS have made it clear that they want to see American songbirds listed on CITES in greater numbers, which implicitly would ban the entry of those species to the United States under the Wild Bird Conservation Act.  
As of right now, the date, time, and location, of that workshop have yet to be decided. The OPA hopes to attend that workshop pending the availability of funds.  

5)    Final thoughts.

Thankfully for the bird world, the attention of CITES seems to remain focused on Sharks and Reptiles. Those topics received significant discussion and were contentious. That said, aviculture must remain vigilant and involved in CITES. The issue of the Bustards is a clear example of the value of being present at these meetings. UAE was able to avoid a lengthy review process simply by being present to explain their success in breeding Bustards, while the fact that Morrocco and Kazakhstan are being subject to review is at least in part based on the fact that they did not send representatives. Likewise, we should not fail to consider that UAE was almost subject to review specifically because they are so successful at breeding Bustards.  

Aviculture must be vigilant of what happens at CITES when breeding success is taken as evidence of potential wrongdoing.

By David Garcia

From Left to Right: David Garcia, Organization of Professional Aviculturists, Jim Collins, Sustainable Users Network, Olivier Dominikowski, European Pet Organization, Marshall Meyers, Ornamental Fish International, Antonius Meiring, Parrot Breeders Association of Southern Africa, Bob Linkins, Pet Advocacy Network, Svein Fosså, Ornamental Fish International.  

Original Article can be seen here: