CITES Vigilance

by A. L. Gaski

Rhino and tiger conservation continues to be an issue of high priority to the parties to CITES, as evidenced by the high level of attention from the CITES Standing Committee for party implementation of the 1994 and 1997 CITES resolutions on these taxa. Both resolutions call upon parties to adopt, improve, or implement legislation, including that on internal trade; to reduce illegal trade; and to adopt law enforcement controls or be more vigilant in their law enforcement efforts. In the United States, Congress recently passed the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act, which, among other things, prohibits the domestic sale of these products. Similar efforts are under way in Canada to strengthen regulations on the sale and possession of CITES species. For example, it has been proposed that all products coming into Canada that contain CITES-listed species must have these species recorded on their ingredient list. In addition, it is proposed that prosecutions now be based on whether a product contains endangered species and/or whether a product claims to contain endangered species. These changes will be made through the Canadian law that implements CITES, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA).

The Pacific and Yukon Region of the Wildlife Enforcement Section of the Environmental Protection Branch of Environment Canada has recently increased its CITES vigilance to ensure compliance with WAPPRIITA within its jurisdiction. The region conducted a five-month on-site inspection project of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) retail outlets in the two British Columbian cities of Vancouver and Victoria. Two uniformed officers conducted the 110 outlet inspections over the period of 4 April to 26 August 1998. "Retail Inspection Project: Traditional Chinese Medicines, Final Report" (August 1998) details the results of this project and is summarized below. Of the 110 outlets visited, 46 (41.8 percent) offered pharmaceuticals containing or claiming to contain CITES Appendix I ingredients. The CITES Appendix I species included tiger (Panthera tigris), rhino (Rhinocerotidae spp.), musk (Moschus spp.), elephant (Elephantidae spp.), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), leopard (Panthera pardus), and saussurea (Saussurea costus). The two most common Appendix I taxa were rhino and tiger.

At 89 of the 110 outlets (80.9 percent), pharmaceuticals containing or claiming to contain CITES Appendix II ingredients were found. The CITES Appendix II species included musk, gastrodia orchid (Gastrodium spp.), bear (Ursidae spp.), pangolin (Manis spp.), saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica), and dendrobium orchid (Dendrobium spp.).

Pharmaceuticals containing or claiming to contain bear were found at 49 outlets (44.5 percent). Bears were specifically targeted in the project because bear trade is prohibited in the province of British Columbia.

A total of 2,897 packages of medicines valued at CA$16,738 (US$11,109; MX$109,918) were detained by the inspecting officers. The seized items involved 63 different manufactured medicines. Items found at 44 of the 46 outlets offering pharmaceuticals containing or claiming to contain CITES Appendix I ingredients included only manufactured or packaged medicines. Only two outlets had raw products that were believed to be CITES Appendix I species of sea turtles (Cheloniidae spp.), bears, and cats (Felidae spp.).

All products containing or claiming to contain CITES Appendix I ingredients were detained and provincial violation warning tickets were issued for any products containing or claiming to contain bear gallbladder or bear bile. Follow-up letters, receipts, and identification reports were provided by mail to each outlet informing them of the reason for detention of their goods. The officers distributed information on the provincial bear prohibition printed in several Asian languages. The findings of the Canadian report are comparable to the results from the TRAFFIC North America investigation reported in While Supplies Last: The Sale of Tiger and Other Endangered Species Medicines in North America. TRAFFIC's report was published in January 1998 and summarized in TRAFFIC North America (June 1998). Environment Canada officers visited the same 24 stores TRAFFIC visited in a few days in late 1997. TRAFFIC found that 58 percent of the shops (15 of 24 shops) offered to sell pharmaceuticals containing or claiming to contain CITES Appendix I target species (rhino, tiger, musk, leopard, and bear).

The difference in results may be because of the difference in methods of investigation, the investigators themselves, the number of outlets visited, and the length of the period of investigation. The officers also believe that the pharmaceuticals found were old and imported long before the inspection period. TRAFFIC North America has no access to the techniques used to age these medicines, but has speculated that illegally imported domestic stocks of rhino and tiger medicines have been stockpiled in North America and elsewhere. These medicines have been illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell in China – once the primary manufacturing country – for about five years. As found in TRAFFIC's earlier investigations and, in most cases, in the Environment Canada inspections, the shop proprietors indicated that they were familiar with regulations concerning the sale of products containing endangered species. TRAFFIC believes that this suggests that consumer demand, rather than retailers' ignorance of the law, keeps these endangered species medicines on shelves.

TRAFFIC continues to recommend that collaborative public outreach efforts to change consumption of traditional Chinese medicines be initiated in North America. The U.S. pilot project between World Wildlife Fund and the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco (funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's "Save the Tiger Fund") is one example of such an effort. This project has begun to produce consumer awareness materials that can be used elsewhere. The Toronto-based cooperative effort between World Wildlife Fund-Canada, local practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, and representatives of the Asian community is in its early stages.

Courtesy of TRAFFIC – a partner organization of the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union.