Let science save the species

25 February 2013 | Article

Dena Cator is best described as someone who connects people. Working for IUCN’s Global Species Programme, she acts as a link between the vast body of species experts in IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and government representatives who make decisions on international environmental policy.

Dena’s mission is to help ensure that governments have the latest, most reliable science in order to make biodiversity-related decisions. Her focus in the last few months has been preparing for the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that takes place in 3-14 March in Bangkok.

On a day-to-day basis Dena works with SSC scientists, helping to collect their knowledge and feed it to those responsible for policy-making at both the national and international level.

“Trade can be a sensitive issue for governments so our role is to be objective and provide the latest scientific information such as species population status and the impacts of trade on populations,” Dena explains.

“During CITES conferences, I work with the IUCN delegation which includes experts on a wide range of species that are traded internationally such as crocodiles, sharks or coral reef fish. Together we get a sense of when we need to make interventions in the debates. I also help make sure that IUCN is speaking with one voice.”

“Our experts are on the frontline, seeing day-to-day threats such as poaching of elephants and rhinos and feel very passionately about the future of ‘their’ species. We are able to assist them in harnessing their information and promoting decision-making based on sound science.”

All over the world, millions of people depend directly on plants and animals for food, health and income and there is a growing focus within CITES on the sustainable use of species and addressing the impacts of trade decisions on livelihoods.

The aim of CITES and the work that IUCN does with the Convention is to make sure that the use of or trade in any species is sustainable and does not threaten its survival. The key, says Dena, is to not let species get to the point when they need to be listed under the Convention, meaning that international trade can impact their threat of extinction.

CITES is one of the few environmental conventions that has legal teeth and therefore has real power to create a positive impact on conservation.

“There are situations where international trade can actually benefit a species,” says Dena. “For example crocodile farming and trade, if done with the proper controls in place, can promote conservation of the species in the wild, because there is an incentive to keep healthy populations of these animals. CITES is a really important way of countries working together to manage global trade of species. If each country operates in its own silo, it can be difficult to manage the impacts.”

For every CITES Conference, IUCN together with TRAFFIC produces technical analyses of proposals to amend the CITES Appendices which are widely used by governments before and during the conference.

The fact that governments help fund production of the Analyses shows how they value IUCN’s information and expertise, says Dena.

“CITES conferences are hectic, challenging and politically charged. What we would like to see at these events is decision-making based on science and expertise. Science has the ability to protect species if it’s used as a basis for decision-making. That’s the key.”