Five CYNESA team members drawn from four countries- Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have just arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, for an important mission. Ms. Eliaichi Manga, Ms. Lombiwe Mwanamonga, Ms. Roselyne Thirikwa and Mr. Tafara Dandadzi, will be participating in the 17th Conference of the Parties, to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora-commonly referred to as ‘CITES’.
CITES was established in 1973, as a response to growing concerns that over-exploitation of wildlife through international trade was contributing to the rapid decline of many species of plants and animals around the world. CoP17 of CITES runs from September 24th to October 5th.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis notes that “each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever.” Speaking at the United Nations in November 2015, during his visit to Kenya, Pope Francis highlighted this concern yet again. He pointed out that “illegal trade in wood, biological material and animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the relative killing of elephants, fuels political instability, organized crime and terrorism.”
The Director of the Division for Environmental Law at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Dr. Elizabeth Mrema, in a recent op-ed in Kenya’s Daily Nation, writes that ‘environmental crime is now the fourth largest criminal enterprise globally, rising by 5 to 7 per cent annually’ adding that ‘robs governments of much-needed revenues, people of livelihoods, peace and security.’ At stake, according to Dr. Mrema, is ‘not just about saving iconic animal species, but about saving the human species from lives marked by degradation and indignity.’
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, issued a pastoral moral guidance, “On the Poaching, Trafficking and Decimation of Endangered Species”. In the document, he expressed concern about “rampant poaching”, and surreptitious trade in wildlife. He went further to reiterate the Church’s commitment to creation, and proposed to his brother bishops “to enforce the directive that no donation of any new statue or religious object made from ivory or materials extracted, taken or derived from protected and endangered species shall be accepted and blessed.”
The CYNESA team will be participating in the CoP17 as ‘Observers’, the technical word used to describe delegates representing organizations other than governments. However, the team will be doing more than simply ‘observing’. Head of delegation, and CYNESA Executive Director, Allen Ottaro, hopes the team will use the opportunity to engage with other delegates in dissecting the issues on the agenda, and provide a faith-based perspective in various fora. It will be a key learning platform, and a strategic networking opportunity. During two days of recess, the team will reach out to young Catholics in Johannesburg, to learn about the environmental challenges they face in their communities and to share their faith.
Earlier this year, our Nairobi office hosted Ms. Iris Ho, the Wildlife Program Manager at the Humane Society International (HSI). It is this encounter that led to the idea of CYNESA and HSI collaborating at CoP17, and beyond, and we look forward to learn from the experience and expertise of HSI on conservation concerns.
Founding Executive Director, CYNESA.