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Plants and AnimalsAlumni Join Forces to Protect Wildlife at Major Conference in Panama

Alumni Join Forces to Protect Wildlife at Major Conference in Panama

Alumni Join Forces to Protect Wildlife at Major Conference in Panama

During two weeks in November, government representatives gathered in Panama City to place in place regulations on international trade in wildlife. The nineteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES COP19) — also referred to as the World Wildlife Conference — made decisions that can affect the longer term of greater than 600 species of animals and plants, including sharks, freshwater turtles, jaguars, elephants, hippos, songbirds, tree species, orchids, and more.

Three alumni of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs also participated within the conference: Shirley Binder represented Panama’s Ministry of Environment, while Shira Yashphe and Arnaud Goessens are each working for conservation organizations, the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, respectively. All three worked to guard wild fauna and flora threatened by international trade, working closely with national governments and other stakeholders and applying environmental policy skills and knowledge they gained during their time at Columbia University.

Three alumni of Columbia’s MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program recently attended the World Wildlife Conference in Panama. Shirley Binder (middle) represented Panama’s Ministry of Environment. Shira Yashphe (right) works for the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and Arnaud Goessens (left) works for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Within the Q&As below, discover more about their work and focus at CITES COP19.

Arnaud Goessens

Arnaud (@ArnaudGoessens) graduated from the MPA-ESP program in 2016. He’s associate director for EU Policy on the Wildlife Conservation Society EU Office, based in Brussels, Belgium.

What’s your role on the Wildlife Conservation Society ?

WCS is a worldwide conservation organization working to save lots of wildlife and wild places in greater than 60 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, constructing on greater than 125 years of scientific, technical, and policy expertise. In my current position with WCS EU, I work on the science-policy interface related to biodiversity conservation, wildlife trade, One Health, and pandemic prevention, and lead on engagement with the European Union and the Belgian government on conservation policies, including as related to international fora comparable to CITES meetings. I’ve now worked at WCS for greater than 7 years and likewise spent several months with WCS Mozambique in 2017, coordinating counter wildlife trafficking work based in Maputo.

What were your priorities on the CITES COP19?

I used to be particularly ensuring further critical and far needed protection measures for quite a lot of wild animals which are threatened by illegal and/or unsustainable international trade, comparable to sharks, turtles, songbirds, jaguars, and elephants. I also engaged closely with the EU and other parties to CITES to be sure that an evidence-based and a precautionary approach is used when deciding to list a species within the CITES Appendices [lists offering different levels or types of protection], or to transfer a species between appendices.

Overall, the CITES COP19 was a giant success for wildlife and I’m really pleased with the outcomes, which incorporates enhanced conservation measures for requiem sharks and hammerheads, freshwater turtles, songbirds, glass frogs, and lots of other wildlife species.

matamata turtle

Matamata turtle. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

What role does the European Union play in combating wildlife trafficking?

As a big global market and transit hub for each legal and illegal wildlife and wildlife products, the EU plays a key role in combating wildlife trafficking in addition to unsustainable wildlife trade. The EU, along with its 27 member states, votes as a bloc (i.e. 27 votes) on species-related matters at CITES meetings and subsequently often is pivotal within the adoption of species listing proposals and other decisions. The EU’s leadership on the worldwide stage is thus vital, particularly at CITES meetings, where member governments resolve protection measures for a lot of threatened and potentially threatened wildlife species. I used to be particularly pleased when the EU issued a latest, ambitious motion plan against wildlife trafficking just before the CITES conference, which can guide latest EU actions against this criminal activity until 2027.

two african elephants

African elephants. Photo: Arnaud Goessens/WCS

Shirley Binder

Shirley (@BinderShirley) graduated from MPA-ESP in 2019, and is now the ministerial senior office advisor in Panama’s Ministry of Environment.

Tell us more about your current role within the Ministry of Environment?

As advisor to the minister of environment of Panama, I used to be accountable for the logistics and technical facets for the organization of the CITES COP19, which was hosted by the federal government of Panama. As well as, I’m the international negotiator for Panama at CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity meetings, and the representative for Panama at other high-level events, comparable to the U.N. Ocean Conference. Prior to my current role, I served as national director of protected areas and biodiversity, director of environmental policy, and marine biologist within the Ministry of Environment of Panama. In these roles, I focused on increasing Panama’s marine protected areas for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, and integrating communities within the management of each marine and terrestrial protected areas.


Jaguar. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

Why is CITES essential?

CITES is one of the vital essential and implementable international conventions regarding species-specific conservation and protection. It’s considered one of those conventions for which decisions are tangible, implementable, and parties really want to comply with the choice made, otherwise they get sanctioned, including through trade bans. CITES just isn’t purely about conservation — its role is to administer international wildlife trade by ensuring it’s sustainable and legal. CITES COPs only happen every three years, so each COP represents a singular and decisive moment for governments to agree on protection measures for species threatened by international trade.

What were your priorities on the CITES COP19?

Panama prioritized several species and strategic issues at COP19 but considered one of our highest priorities was to get requiem and hammerhead sharks listed on Appendix II [species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled]. Within the Committee session, the requiem shark proposal was approved by a really large majority of CITES parties and the hammerhead shark proposals was adopted by consensus. Due to this success, greater than 90% of the shark fin trade will now be regulated under CITES, which should significantly reduce unsustainable trade, and motivate effective management of sharks. It will be significant to notice that an Appendix II listing just isn’t a trade ban but reasonably a tool to be sure that the trade in wildlife is sustainable and legal, and that the species populations can get well and thrive.

blue shark swimming in water

The blue shark is a species of requiem shark. Due to recent actions at CITES COP19, trade in all these sharks shall be more regulated. Photo: Hannes Klostermann / Ocean Image Bank

Shira Yashphe

Shira graduated from the MPA-ESP program in 2017 and now’s wildlife crime lead on the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).

What’s your role on the Cheetah Conservation Fund?

For the last 4 years, I actually have been leading the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF’s) wildlife crime and international policy work. Founded in 1990 by Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF works to guard the cheetah from threats to its survival across its range. There are currently lower than 7,500 cheetahs left within the wild, with the species facing threats starting from climate change and habitat loss to low genetic diversity and disease. Within the last 15 years, an extra threat, that of the illegal trade in cheetah cubs, began to emerge as a serious threat to the East African cheetah population. Leading each our wildlife crime work and our international policy engagement, I develop and implement projects to stop the trade in addition to represent CCF, together with Dr. Marker, at international conventions comparable to CITES.

What were your priorities on the CITES COP19?

Representing CCF, my aim was to advertise regional collaboration to stop the trafficking. It was our hope that we could bring each East African and Arabian Peninsula countries together to declare the necessity to crack down on the illegal trade and stop it before it’s too late. We didn’t achieve that, unfortunately, this time, but there was recognition that the cheetah trafficking is indeed a threat to cheetahs and that focus ought to be given to the live illegal trade in cubs in two instruments newly established under CITES, namely the African Carnivores Initiative and the Big Cats Task Force. We are going to proceed to have interaction the 2 regions on all sides of the Gulf of Aden and hope they may work jointly as soon as possible.

What are your expectations for the longer term?

Personally, I’m hopeful that the convention can move away from a worrying trend I’m seeing – that of specializing in maximizing trade as an alternative of ensuring that it’s sustainable and doesn’t harm species. If previously sustainability was at its core, there may be increasingly vernacular around “maximal” use — which fits against the convention. The convention was established to guard species from over-use and just isn’t a convention to maximise financial gains in any respect costs.

I also wish that the welfare of individual animals shall be included in discussions and decisions, as currently parties to the Convention are convening to debate and choose on the fate and use of (i.e. killing) of living beings without registering that animals are, very like human beings, sentient creatures.


Cheetah. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

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