Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

FIVE animal species will be the focus of the upcoming Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) meeting due to take place in Johannesburg at the end of September.

Elephants, rhinos, tigers, sharks and pangolins will be discussed at the meeting, where delegates will vote on 62 proposals to regulate the trade in specific species and agenda items aimed at boosting the fight against wildlife crime.

Colman O’Criodain, a wildlife trade policy analyst for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said at a media briefing in Johannesburg that while there were proposals to legalise the trade of rhino horn and ivory, this would not solve the issue.

He said there was a need to focus on countries that were facilitating the illegal trade of the animal parts rather than solving the issue of supply or demand.

Regarding the sale of rhino horn, a study conducted by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, found that consumption in Vietnam stands at about 7%. However, O’Criodain said this could jump to 22% if rhino horn were cheaper.

"If we consider that there is that level of demand, we (the WWF) are simply not convinced that farming rhino (horn) can meet that demand given that … 7% of people are already driving a poaching crisis," O’Criodain said.

In SA, trade in rhino horn is still a fraught issue, with the Supreme Court of Appeals in May dismissing a government bid to uphold a seven-year ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn.

The decision was described as a setback to government efforts to keep a lid on the domestic trade in rhino horn, which was imposed in 2009.

However, both buyers and sellers of rhino horn in SA still need to apply for a permit, so that the government can keep tabs on the commodity.

SA is also a proponent of the global ban on the trade of Pangolin, which is the "most heavily traded mammal" O’Criodain said. The Asian populations of the pangolin depleted while the African declining.

The tiger global population is just under 4,000. While there had been improvements in some countries, since 2010 there had been a need to identify the countries that were the main players in illegal trade, according to O’Criodain.

The convention will also propose regulation of global trade for mobula rays, silky sharks and thresher sharks, which are vulnerable to overfishing.

At the meeting, 182 countries will vote on a record number of proposals to regulate the trade in specific species and agenda items, to boost the fight against wildlife crime.