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Articles
The CITES Conundrum
Ron Thomson
True Green Alliance

I am not an expert on the rules of CITES. So, I do not know anything about what opinions, options or actions the CITES Secretariat (or the United Nations) will accept or reject when it comes to suggestions about changing the workings of CITES for the better. Indeed, I am of the opinion, that any attempt to improve CITES, using its current foundations, will be a total waste of time.

The original CITES mandate was to REGULATE the wildlife trade; to ensure that trade was sustainable; and to ensure that trade did not threaten any wild populations of our living resources.

CITES was NOT created to STOP the wildlife trade.

Over the last 43 years - thanks to the accreditation of more and more animal rightists NGOs - CITES has progressively moved away from these founding principles and its purpose today - no matter how hard the Secretariat tries deny this charge - is to PROHIBIT the wildlife trade.

There are many people, like me, who have lost all faith in CITES. I do not believe that there is a snowball’s hope in Hades that the convention will now ever return to its original mandate. And because it has changed direction, I believe that the sovereign states of the world have every right to denounce the convention and to resign therefrom forthwith.

Few people realise that CITES actually comprises only 183 sovereign state members - who are known as ‘The Parties’ to the convention. Only the Parties have a vote; and each Party has only ONE vote for each item on the agenda. Decisions on the debates that determine the outcomes of the agenda items, is by consensus. The outcome of a maximum of 183 votes, therefore, determines the consensus.

Yet CoP17 in Johannesburg (2018) accommodated 3 500 delegates! Two thirds of which, I am told, were animal rightist in orientation.

The CITES agenda comprises wildlife management matters, listed for debate, (for which decisions are required). But not all ‘parties’ are home to the species that are listed on the agenda.

For example: 37 African countries support elephant populations. They are called ‘elephant range-states’. So the Parties represent 37 elephant range-states; and 146 are not elephant range-states. Likewise, there are only two orang-utan range-states and 181 that are not orang-utan range- states.

The disparity between the numbers of range-states for all species on the agenda, and the numbers of non-range- states, is always huge. And the numbers of votes being cast by people who know nothing about the management of the species concerned, therefore, is equally enormous.

Furthermore, the chances of the consensus being contrary to the desires of the range-states is mathematically stacked against them. But it is the range-states that are the ONLY ones affected and the most greatly concerned about the outcome of the voting.

The voting system at CITES, therefore, is an abomination and I am amazed that the range-states have put up with this unfair and unjust system for so long.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that non-range states have no idea about the management requirements of (in this case) either elephants or orang-utans, they still have a vote to cast when the agenda items concerning elephants and orang-utans come up for debate. So, whereas the decisions should be based on scientific fact, the use of scientific fact is only understood and applied by people who have a working knowledge about the wildlife management requirements of the species involved. Most of the parties haven’t a clue what they are voting about; or for! Or they vote in the manner that they are ‘persuaded’ (bribed) to vote. Yes! CITES is THAT corrupt! So, CITES decisions cannot be determined on the basis of scientific fact. Again, why the range states put up with his state of affairs I have no idea.

Using scientific fact to determine a consensus opinion is impossible under the CITES’s voting conditions. AND the non-range-state members that cast their votes to achieve the desired (obligatory) consensus - besides having no idea what they are really voting for - have absolutely no accountability for the outcome of the decisions that they help to make - good or bad. This state of affairs is highly unsatisfactory and it is unacceptable to those range-states whose livelihoods, or national objectives, are dependent on a responsible and honest voting outcome.

On the surface, it would seem reasonable to accept the Secretariat’s point of view that accredited individuals, and accredited NGOs - who all have the right to participate at all levels of the CITES operations (including the right to debate on the agenda items) - but NOT the right to vote - actually contribute to the value of the debates by adding a ‘richness’ to the processes involved because of their often divergent views.

I have a major problem with this point of view.

As I pointed out before, two thirds of the accredited NGOs at CITES are animal rightist in orientation. This means that the purpose of two-thirds of the accredited NGOs is to ABOLISH all animal ‘uses’ by man - including (especially) the wildlife trade. And it is THESE delegates - by sheer weight of numbers - that have turned CITES away from the convention’s original mandate (of REGULATING TRADE) into one of PROHIBITING TRADE.

I wish to make this point: When one joins an organisation - any organisation - your purpose in doing so is (or should be) to, use your expertise/interests to contribute towards helping the organisation to achieve its objectives; and that you will gain just satisfaction in doing so.

In this case, I have to ask the question: What does a person or an organisation - whose purpose in life is to abolish all animal uses by man (including the wildlife trade) - gain, by joining CITES (whose purpose is to REGULATE the wildlife trade)? The answer can only be: The animal rightists join CITES to sabotage the convention’s purpose.

Consider this situation: If a government department is organising a conference to discuss abuse against women and children, who are the people they will NOT invite to such a conference? They will not invite, of course, the country’s known paedophiles and rapists. These unwanted guests will be excluded because their objectives are the exact opposite of the conference’s purpose. So, if they can only contribute negatively towards the purpose of the gathering, they are best left off the guest list.

Why, then does CITES encourage animal rights ‘charities’ to accredit themselves to CITES?

WHY - when the Secretariat KNOWS that these nefarious people are totally antagonistic towards the convention’s real purpose (i.e. Trade Regulation) - are the animal rightist NGOs still encouraged to accredit themselves to the convention?

This is a major issue which I don’t want to pass by lightly, because the accredited animal rightists at CITES are ‘the problem’. It is they who, for decades, have purchased the votes of ‘persuadable Parties’ (with bribes) during every convention. It is THEY who now ‘so-call’ sponsor the costs of poor Party delegations to expensive convention meetings - at the cost of their votes. It is they who also select the NON-RANGE states on particular issues and buy their affiliations concerning items on the agenda in which the selected Non-Range States have no real interest. It is THEY - the animal rightist NGOs - who have now ‘captured’ the convention and who now lead members of the Secretariat around on very short leashes.

If this matter is to ever be resolved, we need to learn to call our spades ‘bloody shovels’.

Why cannot the Secretariat contrive to exclude wannabe-accredited NGOs with induction-criteria that specifically excludes people with animal rights tendencies? Why cannot they demand application affidavits which declare the applicant’s support for the sustainable-use of SAFE wild animal populations; that approves sustainable hunting and harvesting; that supports sustainable marketing of wild animals and their products? And it they refuse to sign such a declaration, they would not receive accreditation. Simple as that! This would weed out the wheat from the chaff. But CITES will do none of these things because they don’t want to upset the animal rightists in any way at all.

The biggest problem with CITES is that it has exercised zero discipline with regard to the qualifications of the people and NGOs that have accredited themselves to the convention.

Money talks! And the animal rightists have got lots of money!

What about the more important priority consideration which should be to make CITES a viable and honest institution. What about helping sovereign states to sort out the niceties of their legitimate wildlife trading businesses? Helping them to trade better and legally!

Why does CITES not correct its animal rightist NGO ‘friends’ when they tell blatant lies in their propaganda. At CoP 17, for example, the animal rights NGOS were telling the world that the African elephant was ‘facing extinction’ - which is a lie. The elephant is nowhere near facing extinction. But CITES let it pass. In so doing, they aided and abetted organised crime. Telling a lie and then making money out of that lie, is ‘common fraud’. Telling that lie a second time (or more) makes that fraud ‘a racket’, and racketeering constitutes ‘organised crime’ (America RICO Act). And for the three years leading up to CoP17 the animal rightists NGOs told that lie hundreds of thousands of times until everybody in creation believed it!

There are a great many civilised, intelligent and thinking people who are fed up with all this underhand duplicity from CITES. People who love Africa; who love Africa’s people; who love Africa’s wildlife - and who believe that mending punctures in spare wheels is NOT the way to make CITES whole again. They know that spare wheels are not the issue. The issue is that it is the engine that drives the CITES machinery that is malfunctioning.

The world is full of good people. People who care about the future of Africa, its people and its wildlife. And they are fed up with the corrupt apparatus that is called CITES in this day and age. I am one of them.

I, and those like me, look upon CITES as an abomination that needs to be exterminated. Ever since the animal rightist NGOs - started dominating CITES outcomes (in the 1980s), I can’t think of a single ‘good thing’ that CITES has ever done for Africa: but bad things there have been many. And, consequent upon us being compliant with CITES’ every demand, all I can see is Africa sliding down a slippery slope into a state of wildlife anarchy. And CITES - through its new PROHIBITION mantra - are hell-bent set on destroying all the principles and practices of science-based wildlife management that are left, the only things that can pull us out of a post-CITES quagmire. And if we leave it much longer there will be nothing left at all. The accredited animal rightists at CITES will have killed the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Africa’s iconic wild animals will only be saved if we can advance into the future on the back of a robust commercial wildlife culture. Wildlife in Africa will only be placed on the road to survival when the rural people of Africa can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ their human survival happening - by way of the benefits they will derive from successful symbiotic and commercial partnerships between them and ‘their’ wildlife. This is the anti-thesis of the First World’s (animal rightists) myth that it is immoral to ‘make money’ out of wildlife. The True Green Alliance’s message is the exact opposite of everything that the animal rightists propagandise about. And it is something that CITES also no longer supports.

So, in my book, there is only one way to go. In Africa’s chosen wildlife management journey we HAVE to break with Western Thinking; we have to break with First World emotion and animal rights clap-trap; and we must break with CITES. CITES is like a millstone round our necks. We are told (by the West) that if we do this or don’t do that we will lose all the West’s support and wildlife marketing benefits. What benefits? We have never had those benefits. They are, therefore, ‘lost’ already! Furthermore, CITES doesn’t want Africa’s people to accrue those benefits. CITES will never allow Africa to accrue those benefits no matter how long we continue to comply with the CITES’ impossible demands. We will be kept under the Western World’s thumb - via CITES - forever. So what are we talking about? And if we stick with CITES, we are going to be continuously pushed down under the water - by the Western nations - until we drown. When I look into the CITES hell-hole, all I see is a bottomless pit of doom and gloom and failure.

Whatever the risks, therefore, Africa would be better off - in the long run - if it pulled out of CITES (and the sooner the better). Whatever the immediate consequences - which we will weather - we would be better off if we pulled out of CITES.

Are we to be self-doomed by remaining totally compliant with CITES’s unacceptable demands? - which amounts to the First World’s animal rightists’ demands - which are really the Western World’s neo-colonial demands on Africa! Is Africa to remain under the yokes of Western powers forever? Or are we going to exercise some self-respect and start paddling our own canoes once again?

We are told that if we pull out of CITES we will never sell our rhino horn or elephant ivory. What is new? We can’t sell it legally now anyway! If we were free of CITES we would be able to market our wildlife and its products as we see fit.

We‘ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the bull the horns. Japan did it with the IWC (The International Whaling Commission)! Why can’t we do it with CITES? Or... does Japan have more spunk than Africa does?

The real question within the CITES debate is not whether we can pull out of CITES or not - because we CAN do it - and it has nothing to do with the ‘rewards’ we have been promised for our utter compliance with CITES’ unacceptable demands, and/or the grave penalties with which we have been threatened if we dare to be defiant - which are all clearly written into the articles of CITES.

And all the while, it is only that which is written on our own souls that really matters.

Do we really have such a lack of self-respect within our hearts that we are prepared (for the rest of our lives) to be compliant with the unconscionable demands of the animal rightists at CITES - because it is THEY who are pulling all the strings? Do we have such a lack of intestinal fortitude that we cannot do what is so obviously right - for Africa, for Africa’s people, and for Africa’s wildlife - (because it may be not so easy to do what is right!). And are we prepared to spend the rest of our lives meekly accepting the pig-swill that is thrown at us, by our enemies, out of the convention every three years - and make no bones about it CITES is our enemy - or do we dig deep and find our hidden spirit once again, and the courage and the temerity, to tell CITES to ‘Go to Hell’.

CITES should be warned to: ‘Beware the African warrior when he takes up his spear!’

I challenge those doubting Thomas’s who think that by leaving CITES we will be inviting the sky to fall down around our ankles - that the world which exists today with gone tomorrow - and that the consequences will be catastrophic. They are wrong!

I would remind everybody that the World recovered from World War II despite the horrific destruction of the civilisation that we used to know - caused by five years of fighting on the ground with millions of troops, of shelling and bombing, and carpet-bombing, and two atomic bombs. And I would point out that the two countries that were hit the hardest at the end of World War II - Japan and Germany - emerged from the ashes stronger than they had ever been before; even stronger than the nations that had vanquished them.

I predict that out of the ashes of a demolished CITES, the world will be a better place in which to live for everybody; that our wildlife will be safer and better managed that it is today; that Africa’s people will create successful and thriving symbiotic partnerships with their wildlife and their wild places - and that they will be better off - as will the wild animals they will be sustainably harvesting - because of those partnerships; and that an honest international wildlife trade will flourish when the corrupt CITES prohibition era is behind us.

So let’s stop talking and let’s start doing! And let us tell everybody what Africa really thinks of CITES!

A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step! Let the SADC countries be the first to emerge and to show the world the way forward!

Ron Thomson CEO-TGA 30/7/2019


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Michael G. Sabbeth is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. He lectures on ethics and rhetoric. He has written the book "The Good, The Bad and The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values." & is now working on a book titled "No More Apologizing! Arguments to Defend and Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports."

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