Remarks by John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

made during the Global Tiger Initiative side-event
at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties
to the Convention on Biological Diversity
Nagoya, Japan, 28 October 2010

The subject of conservation of tigers is one that the CITES community has given a special focus to over many years. The CITES Secretariat has also been a very active player in the Global Tiger Initiative, since the President of the World Bank asked the Secretariat to take the lead in providing enforcement-related advice to the Initiative.

Many of the pressures that tigers currently face, such as loss of habitat, conflict with humans and their livestock, and a declining prey base, are being addressed by others. It is in the fields of regulating trade, or combating illegal trade, that the expertise of CITES has been called upon.

This event takes place during the Chinese Year of the Tiger, the International Year of Biodiversity and during this meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is an appropriate time and place to focus on the tiger as one of our planet’s flagship species. The well-being of the tiger reflects the health (or otherwise) of the forests and jungles in which it lives. Regrettably, the ever-declining numbers of tigers tell us that many of those habitats are similarly under pressure.

In 1999, a CITES technical mission team visited 14 tiger range States, and what we refer to as consumer States. It found that the law enforcement officers tasked with protecting tigers in the wild and combating illegal trade in these magnificent creatures were often under-resourced, poorly paid, and inadequately trained. Many of the Team’s conclusions and recommendations remain valid and relevant today, despite a decade having passed.

Good enforcement work is being conducted but obviously not often enough. This is particularly frustrating if one acknowledges that illegal trade in tigers is not especially widespread. Much of it appears to be conducted by a relatively limited number of individuals or groups and is destined for specialized markets or consumers. Although some of these markets and consumers are clandestine in nature, they are nonetheless open to infiltration and targeting. The CITES Secretariat believes that much of today’s illegal trade in tigers could be markedly reduced, if concerted, collective efforts were made by the law enforcement community against those involved in these destructive crimes.

It was with a view to bringing support to the law enforcement community that the CITES Secretariat promoted the concept of what has come to be known as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). The Consortium, intended to consist of CITES, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization, aims to introduce a new era of wildlife law enforcement, one where wildlife criminals will face a formidable, coordinated opposition, rather than the present situation where the risk of detection and punishment is all too low. To achieve this goal, ICCWC is intended to work for, and with, the national-level wildlife law enforcement community, since it is these frontline officers who bring criminals to justice.

It is our fervent hope that the forthcoming International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg will see the formal launch of the Consortium. As many of you will know, the potential support offered by agencies involved in the Consortium now features as a major component of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which representatives of tiger range States will be asked to endorse in St Petersburg. We need to bring our collective efforts together to assist national authorities tackle this growing area of criminal activity if we are to achieve our biodiversity targets. 

Enforcement alone will not, of course, save the tiger. But it is significant that it is seen as a very high priority by the range States and the wider conservation community. We’ve noted this emphasis with regard to other CITES Appendix I species which are threatened with extinction, such as the mountain gorilla in Africa.

Eco-tourism has been helpful in safeguarding mountain gorillas and it can be helpful for tigers in some of their habitats also. But we should not be shy about also emphasizing the importance of effective enforcement. After all, every tiger skin that enters into trade and every tiger skeleton that crosses a border shows that our conservation management has failed and brings the species ever closer to extinction.

Good enforcement work is being done and today I want to tell you about one excellent example. On 23rd August this year, at Bangkok’s international airport, a passenger’s baggage was subjected to X-ray screening. The airport security staff became suspicious of the contents and they summoned the CITES officials that are stationed at the port. When the baggage was searched, it was found to be full of stuffed tiger toys, the type of object that a child would cuddle. However, to their astonishment, hidden within these toy tigers was a real live tiger cub. Needless to say, the traveller was arrested and the tiger was seized and is being cared for.

It is clearly commendable that this poor animal was prevented from being traded illegally. However, what is really commendable is that the airport security staff in Bangkok has been specifically trained to be alert to the smuggling of wildlife. They were trained by the Programme Coordination Unit of ASEAN-WEN (the wildlife enforcement network that has been established among the countries of South East Asia), with support from the wildlife monitoring NGO TRAFFIC and the United States Agency for International Development.

I’m delighted that the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand, The Honourable Suwit Khunkitti who was recently awarded the J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership, is with us today. He initiated and chaired the 1st Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation hosted by the Government of Thailand in cooperation with the Global Tiger Initiative in early this year. I’m also delighted, because I’d like to announce that we have decided that the Airports of Thailand Public Company and the CITES Wildlife Checkpoint of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department of the Government of Thailand, at Bangkok airport, are to be awarded the CITES Secretary-General’s Certificate of Commendation. Certificates of Commendation are awarded in recognition of exemplary enforcement activities, and the seizure of the tiger cub undoubtedly offers an excellent example to other countries. I hope that more governments will move to raise awareness of wildlife smuggling among their port security staff and I look forward to presenting the Certificates personally, when I visit Thailand, which will host the CITES COP16 in 2013, later this year

I’m firmly convinced that, if we get things right for the tiger, we will also get things right for its habitats and the fauna and flora which are found there.

I’d like to close by thanking:

- the organizers of this event for their invitation to speak;

- the World Bank for all its efforts in relation to the Global Tiger Initiative, and especially its President, Robert Zoellick, for the strong personal leadership, passion and enthusiasm he is bringing to this excellent collaboration to save the remaining wild tigers;

- Minister Suwit for his personal commitment to conservation and his country’s commitment to CITES and congratulating again Thailand’s officials for saving one particular tiger; and

- saying how honoured CITES staff are to be playing a role in tiger conservation.

Finally, future generations should not have to look at tigers behind bars in a zoo. Instead, it is those criminals who poach and trade tigers that should be the ones behind bars.