CITES, its Evolution and the History of Attitudes Towards It

Harold Koopowitz is professor of biology at the University of California at Irvine. He has been collecting, growing and studying orchids for over 30 years. His involvement has been at many levels as a hobbyist, scientist and commercial grower. He specializes in paphiopedilums and is a fully accredited orchid judge for the American Orchid Society. He is also a corresponding member of the Conservation Committee for the American Orchid Society and serves on the International Orchid Commission. In addition, he is a member of the Species Survival Commission concerned with orchids for the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). He has described several of the slipper orchid species and he is the editor-in-chief for the Orchid Digest.
  Foto/Photo: Sergio Araujo


ON: Mr. Harold Koopowitz, your lecture in Dijon concerns the "CITES, its Evolution and the History of Attitudes Towards It". You have a very firm opinion about the CITES. Please, could you develop this question?
HK: Much of CITES does not have to do with real conservation. To my mind, it should be not working with hybrid plants. I think all the hybrids should be taken off. Regulating movement of dried herbarium specimens also has nothing to do with conservation. When they list something they should know or have good evidences that it is really in danger in the nature. The attitude that if one does not have enough information that one should play safe and regulate simply does not work for plants. There is a lot of bureaucracy involved in running CITES and it is very expensive, not only for the commercial growers, but also for the countries that have to carry out the treaty. 90 percent of the regulation work has to do with hybrid plants. So I think money that they spend in such regulation, would be better spent if they were buying forest or helping conservation for really endangered animals or plants. By regulating plants that are not truly endangered all they have done is loose the support of the orchid growing public.
If you look at their published list of endangered species they illustrate it with a picture of a Dendrobium hybrid. This indicates they do not really understand what they are doing. One can illustrate that CITES does not work. When they uplisted the two genera Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium to Appendix I, it did not reduce collecting pressures on the wild populations. In the latter case (Phragmipedium) it increased it. It did not stop collections in the wild and newly discovered species (e.g. Paph. vietnamense), since uplisting, are now highly endangered or collected out. The increased red tape makes it difficult to artificially reproduce Paphiopedilums and carry out ex situ conservation.
In the past CITES placements were not based on real evidence, just the opinion of people who considered themselves experts. Many species which looked as if they were very threatened are now known not to have been endangered.

ON: Why do you think that CITES works against ex situ species conservation?
HK: With orchids listed in Appendix I one needs to be able to show that the original plants of the species were collected legally. This is not always possible. A good example are the Vietnamese slipper orchids. These were all collected illegally to the point of endangerment. Some may not even exist in the wild anymore but they are widespread in cultivation (illegally). Prohibiting trade in these species is now illogical because they will go exinct unless they are allowed to be propagated artificially. But that is forbidden.

On: What kind of changes can you suggest for CITES list?
HK: All hybrids should be removed. All artificially propogated materials should be removed. Scientific herbarium specimens should be removed. Only truly endangered species should be listed. CITES should not regulate movement of dried herbarium specimens. CITES should also condone, encourage movement of salvaged materials.

ON: What kind of cooperation between commercial nurseries and conservationists can promote conservation?
HK: I think that the current regulation of Phragmipedium kovachii allowing a few nurseries to propagate and sell flasks of P. kovachii and its hybrids under Peruvian government control makes an excellent model.

ON: You are the editor of one of the most important magazines on orchids, 'Orchid Digest'. In your magazine, is it possible to do something for conservation or is the purpose is not that?
HK: Well, we want to promote conservation and in the past, we have actually issues devoted to conservation but at the present time that is not our main goal. We are, however, always interested in articles on conservation, both about successes and failures and would be happy to consider any new material on those subjects. I must warn that it we have a backlog of articles and it can take as long as one to two years to get published.

ON: Thank you.

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