There can be no sadder task for an animal lover than to formally declare a once-loved species extinct. But that duty fell to delegates at the 178-nation Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference in Bangkok this week as they removed a distressing number of now-extinct animals from protection lists that had failed to protect them. They included Australia's dusky flying fox and cartoon-like rabbit-eared bandicoot. And, at the rate humans are killing off wild animals and plundering the seas, more familiar species could be joining them.
Cites does seem to be losing the battle against trans-national criminal gangs, but wildlife traders are wrong to regard it as being a toothless tiger. It demonstrated its ability to unsheathe its claws last week when it slapped punitive sanctions on Guinea after it ignored frequent warnings. The West African nation was sanctioned for issuing fraudulent permits facilitating illegal trade in a variety of protected animals including the great apes. They will prevent Guinea from importing and exporting all the 35,000 species listed by Cites.
The UN organisation's drawback is that it has to rely on national and international law enforcement, which can be haphazard at best. Despite the efforts made to stamp out ivory smuggling, poachers killed an estimated 25,000 elephants last year and will probably kill even more this year. What Cites needs to do now is to go after the recipient countries and penalise them. It is all very well to name and shame offending source countries such as Thailand by putting them on watch lists and threatening them with wildlife trading bans if they fail to mend their ways, but surely that is only tackling half the problem.
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