Viet Nam must tackle illegal rhino horn trade or face sanctions under CITES
As the world’s largest market for illegal rhino horn, Viet Nam’s failure to shut down illegal markets, disrupt the trafficking networks and prosecute the traffickers will be in the spotlight as Johannesburg hosts the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from September 24-October 5.
This will be the largest CITES meeting ever with participation of 181 countries and a record number of items up for negotiation, including wildlife trade issues relating to elephants, sharks, pangolins and tigers. But given its location in South Africa, which has lost nearly 6000 rhinos to poachers since 2007, including more than 700 so far this year, rhino issues will be high on the agenda.
Despite widespread evidence of rhino horn openly for sale in Viet Nam, authorities have made no significant rhino horn seizures within their borders and have reported no successful prosecutions.
“Viet Nam’s poor law enforcement record speaks for itself: ending the illegal rhino horn trade and helping to save Africa’s rhinos is clearly not a priority for the government,” said Ginette Hemley, WWF Head of Delegation to CITES. “With around three rhinos being poached each day, there is no time to lose. CITES must take a tough line with Viet Nam: swiftly implement critical measures to tackle the illegal rhino horn trade or be banned from legally trading many wildlife products.”
Specifically, Viet Nam must agree to enact new regulations to treat wildlife crime as a ‘serious crime’ with a minimum sentence of four years in prison; legislate to treat fake rhino horn as real rhino horn for enforcement and prosecution purposes; and successfully target and prosecute illegal traders and traffickers. Otherwise, CITES must call on countries to prohibit trade with Viet Nam in all CITES-regulated wildlife.
Besides Viet Nam, CITES must also compel other countries along the illegal rhino horn trade chain to do more. South Africa has devoted considerable resources to stopping poaching with some success but longer term interventions involving communities and addressing transnational criminal networks are required. Mozambique must ramp up its efforts to prevent smugglers using its territory and China, another major consumer of rhino horn, needs to focus on reducing demand.
“International trade bans are critical to saving wildlife, but without rigorous efforts to prevent poaching and trafficking they are never enough on their own. Organized criminal networks will continue to target threatened species, as we have seen with rhinos, elephants and tigers,” said Hemley.
The illegal ivory trade will also be a major agenda item at the conference. With tens of thousands of African elephants being poached each year and an international ivory trade ban already in place, CITES must focus on the measures needed to effectively implement the ban and deal with the fundamental issues behind the illegal ivory trade – corruption, inadequate laws and lack of enforcement in countries along the illegal ivory trade chain, and rampant demand in Asia.
In particular, it is critical that all 19 African and Asian countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade rigorously implement their National Ivory Action Plans under CITES, which are beginning to yield results. Independent reviews of each country’s progress are needed and countries failing to act should also face the threat of CITES trade sanctions.
Meanwhile, CITES Parties should give greater trade protection to a range of species, including all 8 species of Asian and African pangolins, thresher and silky sharks, devil rays, African grey parrot, rosewood trees, and flapshell and softshell turtles.
But the conference will also provide countries with the chance to decrease the restrictions on trade in some species, such as the peregrine falcon and the Cape mountain zebra, which have recovered since they were placed on Appendix I of CITES – the highest level of trade protection.
“The recovery of species like the peregrine falcon shows that CITES can work and that populations can bounce back thanks to trade bans and conservation efforts,” said Hemley. “If the world takes decisive action in Johannesburg, we can look forward to more success stories in the future.”
Along with specific species proposals, the conference will also address broader issues that will be critical to long term success, such as improving the livelihoods of local communities, tackling corruption and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products.