This month, the 18thmeeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) occurred in Geneva, Switzerland. Held every three years, the CoP is when countries make legally-binding decisions to improve regulations on international wildlife trade, based on preparation work that occurred in the preceding years. As almost always, most attention goes to high-profile species like elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, sea turtles and mako sharks. But away from the flagship species limelight, many other species, and general topics, are discussed, debated, and usually agreed on by consensus.
This time, five turtle species were transferred from Appendix II (where limited, regulated international commercial trade is allowed under permit) to Appendix I (no commercial trade allowed, only non-commercial international movements for primarily conservation purposes permitted): Bourret’s Box Turtle, Cuora bourreti; Vietnamese Box Turtle, Cuora picturata; Annam Pond Turtle, Mauremys annamensis; Indian Star Tortoise, Geochelone elegans; and Pancake Tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri. While certainly not a cure-all for illegal trade, the greater enforcement oversight and farming registration required for CITES Appendix I species, and higher possible penalties for perpetrators, should help to reduce illegal, unsustainable collection for international trade. The Parties also considered further measures to address tortoise poaching in Madagascar, development of expert networks to assist with identification of turtles in (suspect) trade and contact networks to facilitate suitable placement of confiscated live turtles. Turtle Conservancy staff have supported and facilitated such initiatives in various ways, and will continue to work to minimize illegal and unsustainable trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, and help care for those animals that are confiscated from illegal trade.