Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, Wildlife Conservation Society, spoke about the highlights of the CMS CoP 13 that was held in Gandhinagar from February 15-22, 2020. Edited excerpts:
Ishan Kukreti: What, for you, have been the highlights of this CoP so far?
Susan Lieberman: It has been a great CoP thus far. The outcomes have been very positive. WCS is very pleased with the consensus to list the jaguar in Appendices I and II, Asian elephant in Appendix I, and Great Indian Bustard in Appendix I, among others.
I am also pleased with the positive discussions and collaboration around including the conservation of migratory species and their habitats in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
The Government of India and the CMS Secretariat have done an outstanding job with the organisation of the meeting, which has fostered good collaboration and many important dialogues with governments and other colleagues.
Finally, WCS has a strong program here in India, and it has been a highlight to be able to help share their great work with delegates.
IK: CMS Appendix I species are declining and are also being traded as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) trade data shows. Within this context, how effective do you think CMS is in conserving biodiversity and what are its weak points?
SL: The major challenges are with the implementation of CMS at the national level. Many countries do not implement CMS as effectively as they could or should — particularly for Appendix I species.
Sometimes this is due to a lack of political will and a lack of coordination within governments, but there are also major funding challenges. The effective implementation of CMS Appendix I is the major challenge. Parties are supposed to ban all take from the wild, other than specific exemptions, and to inform the CMS Secretariat accordingly.
Unfortunately, we have seen cases where this is not as it should be. But I am optimistic that this can be turned around. We all need to work together to elevate the importance of the conservation of migratory species and their habitats.
IK: How does a global organization like WCS ensure that its core policies and ideas are being implemented on the ground?
SL: WCS works foremost on-the-ground (and in the water for our marine work) with our government partners in more than 60 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas — including India, of course.
At the global level, we coordinate closely with all of our field and country programs. Our policies at the global level are informed and driven by our field-based work.
IK: What are your views on the reintroduction of the cheetah in India?
SL: I understand and respect that it is a dream to restore the cheetah population in India. I am not an expert on cheetahs. I do know that it is a serious, complicated, and expensive endeavor to reintroduce a species to a habitat it has been eliminated from.
I hope that funds that would have gone to the conservation of species and habitats that are still in good shape, are not compromised by this effort.
IK: What do illegal wildlife trade control mechanisms lack in order to curb the global demand and supply chains?
SL: The highest priorities should be to: 1) Stop the crime, through strong enforcement and management at the site level; and 2) disrupt the criminal networks driving wildlife trafficking.
And the best way to curb demand is to close markets, and to have strong enforcement and prosecution that ensures that these products are not available to the public. Changing consumer behavior is vital. But it must be accompanied by strong government management and enforcement efforts.
IK: What measures does WCS take in its functioning in indigenous areas to ensure that there are no human rights violations?
SL: WCS works very closely with indigenous peoples and local communities in all of our field-based programs. We have staff who work very closely with indigenous communities, to help them obtain and ensure their rights.
We have a strong internal safeguards policy that we all take very seriously. Indigenous peoples and local communities are our partners. We work together with them to better their lives, ensure their rights, while improving the state of conservation of species and wild places.
Local communities are dependent on healthy wild places and wildlife populations, and we are committed to working with them on that.
IK: What are your views on sustainable use of wildlife?
SL: I support ensuring that any use of wildlife is sustainable. That use can be consumptive, where wildlife is exploited and removed from the wild, or non-consumptive (such as wildlife-watching, ecotourism, etc).
I believe that the use of wildlife must be based on sound science and adaptive management, and must also be biologically, culturally, socially, and economically sustainable, with benefits for wildlife populations and local communities. Every country has its own philosophical approach to the use of wildlife, and I respect that greatly.
This interview was first published in Down to Earth.