Today is World Wildlife Day, an opportunity to celebrate the wondrous diversity of plants and animals on Earth. This day also marks the 50th anniversary of an international agreement between governments to ensure the trading of wild animals and plants – which is estimated to be worth billions of US dollars globally – doesn’t threaten species’ survival.
The voluntary deal, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), provides varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species globally. The text of the convention was agreed at a meeting on 3 March 1973 and it came into force in 1975. It provides a framework for 184 participants – including China, the US and the European Union – to ensure sustainable trading of wild species for products such as food, fur, timber and medicines.
“Without CITES, we’d lack a vital mechanism to turn off the ever-flowing, and tragic, extraction of species driven by market demand,” said Abigail Entwistle at conservation charity Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in a press release.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one species benefitting from a total trade ban under CITES in partnership with FFI. Since this began, the population size has risen fourfold to more than 1000 individuals. The primates can be found roaming the volcanic green slopes of Rwanda, with females bearing one or two infants at time, as seen in the photo above from Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The species can also be found in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis), which stands about 1 metre tall, is also protected by CITES. The herbivores are found in the forests and swamps of West Africa, with most living in Liberia, as captured in the photo above from a camera trap. CITES and FFI are working with local communities to track and safeguard the nocturnal animals.
Recently, conservationists have confirmed that pygmy hippos have a wider distribution than previously thought. They detected pygmy hippo DNA at 10 sites across south-east Liberia using technology pioneered by the company NatureMetrics that will help efforts to protect the species.
A male Grenadines pink rhino iguana (Iguana insularis insularis) is seen in the photo above taken on Palm Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in the Caribbean. The striking species is threatened by poaching, as well as by competition from the non-native green iguana (Iguana iguana) for food and territory, but still lacks CITES protection.
Since 2016, FFI has been working with local and international partners to protect the species. The charity says a “CITES listing would be the logical next step” to safeguard its survival.