A Tale of Two CITES: Divergent Perspectives upon the Effectiveness of the Wildlife Trade Convention


  • Michael Bowman


The question concerning the overall functional effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has attracted a range of sharply contrasting responses. These divergent assessments appear to correlate closely with the fundamentally different philosophies of conservation which are currently espoused within the international community, and are themselves shaped by the disparate psychological predilections from which they emerge. Although the concept of ‘sustainable utilization’ features prominently in the supporting rhetoric of most constituencies, much depends upon whether it is the aspect of ‘sustainability’ or ‘utilization’ that commands motivational priority. In certain quarters, an essentially individualistic, materialistic and libertarian perspective predominates, with the result that especially strong justifications are expected for constraints upon use. Since this standpoint is so deeply ingrained within human psychology, it is essential that it be accommodated within conservation regimes. Yet at the same time, it cannot be overlooked that this very inclination has done much to precipitate the biodiversity crisis in the first place, and must therefore be balanced by a more holistic and ecocentric perspective. In that respect, a widespread lack of effective understanding remains evident in policy-making circles, and a variety of well-entrenched myths and misconceptions still represent a significant impediment to progress.