News - June 14, 2018

# seriousaboutwildlife

Vincent Oostvogels

On a stopover at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, I was struck by the large number of warning signs. The message is loud and clear: you don’t want to get caught with ivory in your baggage in Kenya. They take the conservation of their wildlife seriously here.

That must be what the lobbying organization CITES thought too recently, when it spread the latest news from Kenya with the hashtag #seriousaboutwildlife. A proposed legal change to slap the death penalty on poaching.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) regulates the trade in threatened animal and plant species. Some of my favourite teachers work for this organization, one of the key opponents of the overexploitation of wild populations. With 182 member countries, CITES is an internationally respected institute and not the sort of club to champion the dead penalty.

So I don’t think it was CITES’s intention to express support for the death penalty with this rather casual tweet. But it put the organization in the dubious company of a few groups that do openly applaud Kenya’s proposed new law. Among them One Green Planet, a platform that aims to help people make ‘conscious choices’. The website is full of messages denouncing child labour, land-grabbing and modern slavery. But the death penalty for poachers? One Green Planet declared that a ‘victory’.

Meanwhile, the CITES tweet has been quietly deleted. If you ask me, they missed an opportunity there. Because while groups like One Green Planet are forfeiting all credibility with their selective indignation, CITES could have made a public statement showing who is really serious about the conservation of wild animals. And has been for nearly half a century, without having to compromise on human rights.

Vincent Oostvogels (22) is exploring the delicate interface between nature management and food production through his two Master’s programmes, Forest and Nature Conservation and Animal Sciences