Not only is it raining cats and dogs in Sochi, Russia at the ongoing CITES Standing Committee Meeting, in preparation of the CITES Conference of Parties in 2019 in Sri Lanka, but dark clouds have come up surrounding the subject of bringing local communities into the decision processes of CITES.
Animal welfare organizations are profoundly afraid that their strength in lobbying the CITES convention is going to diminish once local organizations from all over the world living with wild animals are having their voices heard. Voices, which express that living with wildlife is not always easy, especially if e.g. numbers of elephants or lions around human settlements in Africa are growing to levels that lead to severe wildlife – human conflicts, which includes immediate life threatening situations. Local people are prepared to live with wild, sometimes even dangerous animals, if there is a benefit for them. Deriving substantial income from trophy hunting is one example where communities can benefit.
It may even be that governments who, as “parties” to the CITES convention are the decision makers, might not necessarily want to have their local communities watching over their shoulders and involved in the decision-making processes.
Are local communities going to stand up against the push of animal welfare NGOs, mainly from developed nations? Are the same local communities going to allow their national governments to kill the push for them to have a voice in CITES? We will see, but it does not look good for allowing the voices of local communities to be heard. Former Secretary General of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers got straight to the point in Sochi when he said: “It is a shame how this issue of communities participating in CITES decision-making was handled so far. The working group entrusted to work out details must continue in finding agreeable solutions.” On this point, “the CIC fully supports the participation of local communities in CITES decision-making, as the communities have to live on a daily basis with the consequences of decisions reached by the Convention” said Tamás Marghescu, Director General of the CIC. For work to continue on this issue, if at all, it now looks as though this will only be possible in May 2019, with any results to be discussed in 2022. A long way away, with a lot of water flowing down the Zambezi river in the meantime.