I have neither ill-will nor love for wild flora or fauna; I only recognise their commercial value and their potential for holding discoveries that could lead to cures for diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, and so on and so forth.
Which brings us to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, of 1973, one year after the United Nations Environment Programme excised a portion of the Karura Forest in Nairobi to set up its headquarters. (The irony of a UN environment agency cutting down a part of a forest to put up concrete and stone buildings is not lost on me.) Back to CITES. The clue is in the title. It is an international agreement that regulates trade in endangered species.
Article II of the Convention is pretty interesting too.
1. Appendix I shall include all species threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade. Trade in specimens of these species must be subject to particularly strict regulation in order not to endanger further their survival and must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances.
2. Appendix II shall include:
(a) all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival; and
(b) other species which must be subject to regulation in order that trade in specimens of certain species referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph may be brought under effective control.3. Appendix III shall include all species which any Party identifies as being subject to regulation within its jurisdiction for the purpose of preventing or restricting exploitation, and as needing the co-operation of other Parties in the control of trade.
4. The Parties shall not allow trade in specimens of species included in Appendices I, II and III except in accordance with the provisions of the present Convention.As you can see, the Principles of the CITES do not forbid trade in endangered species; trade is permitted so long as it is strictly regulated and conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Convention. Which brings me to the question of our remarkable stockpiles of animal trophies: why burn them at all?
The argument that the value of living wildlife rises as the stock of poached animal trophies is reduced has been canvassed on both sides. What is certain, though, is that since the first Kenyan incineration of animal trophies in 1989, poaching has not reduced, but has dramatically increased. Animal trophies are not proof of demand for them; they are proof that the conservation and wildlife protection strategies at play have failed.
More official incineration of animal trophies is not proof of a reassessment of these strategies but a blind faith in ineffective "symbolic" acts that have done little to reduce wildlife destruction by poachers. In wildlife conservation and protection, we are at the stage of madness where we repeat the same strategies over and over in the expectation of a different, better outcome.
It would help, perhaps, if we read the CITES keenly, removed the emotional rhetoric from its assessment, and applied its principles as they were meant to to be applied. If there is a moratorium - not ban - on trade in trophies, the basis for that moratorium should be reviewed because it has not stopped the unlawful destruction of Kenya's flora and fauna. All the emotional hand-wringing over the past two years since the last time animal trophies were incinerated have not reversed the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, buffalo or lions. Let us stop pretending that it will after 30th April.