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Rachelle Adam from Hebrew University moderated a lively dialogue between the four panelists. The program began with two intense video clips: Last Days by Kathryn Bigelow, which highlights the relationship between the illegal trade of ivory and terrorist groups, and Battle for the Elephants, a PBS program, which describes the struggle to save elephants from poaching despite the ongoing demand for ivory.
The videos set the tone for the provocative session in which each panelist provided unique insight on the extent to which international environmental law is helping to control the alarming disappearance of wildlife across the globe. The speakers included John Frederick Walker, who published Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants, a 2009 book chronicling the ban on ivory trade and conservation efforts to reduce poaching. As Mr. Walker made clear in his presentation, he believes the ban on the ivory trade has done more harm than good, and compared it to the war on drugs in the United States. He noted that the natural emotional reactions provoked by the films screened at the beginning of the session provide the impetus for change, but the solutions must be practical and enforceable. In short, he believes the regulation of ivory trade – not its elimination – is the answer.
The other panelists largely disagreed with Mr. Walker, which included Anna Frostic, senior attorney from the Humane Society of the United States, Craig Hoover, Chief at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Susan Lieberman from the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. Ms. Lieberman began by elaborating on the advantages (e.g., compliance mechanisms; stimulate conservation and media attention; drive cross-border, regional and international collaboration) of multilateral environmental agreements for wildlife conservation. She acknowledged serious disadvantages as well (e.g., weak or no compliance mechanisms; corruption; issues with implementing legislation at the national level), but she continued by providing examples of species-focused treaties that have led to measurable improvements from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). These treaties have helped wildlife populations stabilize or at least improve. She believes CITES is particularly successful as it not only helps to establish and manage protected areas, but also does not require consensus, which allows for more efficient implementation.
Mr. Hoover followed by answering the question whether international law can help prevent the rapid disappearance of wildlife with one word: “Yes!” He clarified that though elephants and rhinos are excellent representatives of at risk species, international agreements like CITES are designed to protect thousands of species from animals to plants all over the worlds. The compliance mechanisms have led to demonstrated benefits over the past 40 years, but its application is limited to international trade and does not explicitly apply to poaching. Not surprisingly, implementation at the domestic level is an ongoing concern. While CITES may be characterized as more slow and deliberate than nimble and efficient, it continues to evolve and compel government action.
Ms. Frostic rounded out the conversation by highlighting both victories and ongoing challenges domestically. She acknowledged the good work being done by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but criticized them for allowing “pay-to-play” trophy hunting, providing rhino trophy permits to the highest bidder, and the unregulated breeding and sale of tigers, chimpanzees and other exotic and/or endangered animals. Though the panelists may disagree on the most effective mechanisms to prevent the disappearance of wildlife, they all agreed on the need to collaborate, evolve and act as these species will likely disappear without immediate, aggressive action at the international level.
Kristina Alayan is the Foreign and International Law Librarian & a Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law.