johannesburg, South africa 2016

The trigger why I chose South Africa for a trip in September/October 2016 was my wish to join the GMFER demonstration in Johannesburg, the site of this year's CITES meeting, on 24th September.

Only after I had booked the whole 3-weeks trip I became aware that it was indeed possible to join the CITES meeting itself, too. So I used this opportunity, of course, at least for some days, and then proceeded to the tours to Krüger National Park and the Garden Route  which I had scheduled in advance.


Having arrived in Johannesburg on 22nd September in the early morning, I only had time for checking into the hotel, and already a few hours later a meeting of SSN (Species Survival Network, an association of many NGOs) was held to prepare its members for the CITES Conference of Parties 'CoP17' which was to start 2 days later. Around 80 people of numerous NGOs were attending the meeting, and around 40 of them were new at CoPs.

It was my first time to join such a meeting, and it was very interesting, and also heartening to meet so many people engaged in wildlife conservation and all of them working together for the best possible results for the animals at CoP17. SSN meetings would then be repeated occasionally during the 12 days of CoP17.

Photo: Will Travers
Photo: Will Travers

Preparation Day for CoP17

Actually I didn't see much of the city Johannesburg, except for the part of the street with the Sandton Convention Center shown in the left photo below where I was every day because it was the location of the 17th Conference of Parties of CITES - CoP17, and my hotel was just beside the Convention Center.

The photo on the right shows Nelson Mandela Square which was very close to the hotel, too.

The next day was reserved for preparations for CoP17. The first thing to do was to get my CITES badge for the entry to the conference rooms. The photo on the right shows one of the aisles in the Sandton Convention Center, venue of the CITES Conference of Parties.

The day started with the conference of the Standing Committee in Meeting Room 1.

In the picture below : Dear colleagues of the Munich association Pro Wildlife, full of energy to start fighting for the animals.

At the same time there was a meeting of the ministers in the plenary.

The plenary was the biggest conference room, really huge! In total 3500 people finally attended CoP17.

Upper photo on the left:

On the stage: CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon and South Africa's Minister Edna Molewa, the host of this event, and several others.

Lower photo on the left:

The German delegation was already here, too: From left to right: Environment Minister Dr Barbara Hendricks, Dr E. Nickel, Mr G. Adams

There was also an exhibition hall belonging to the conference, where GMFER ( Global March for Elephants and Rhinos) and Y4AW ( Youth for African Wildlife)  had a stand.

Sharon Kwok, an actress from Hong Kong, is very engaged in animal conservation. She is one of our GMFER organizers, too. This year she specialized in the very endangered pangolin and brought a handmade pangolin costume to Johannesburg.

GMFER is a worldwide organization, and in Johannesburg at least some of us met for the first time. Here on the picture, from left to right: Shubert Mwarabu from Tanzania, singer and activist for wildlife, Rosemary Alles (GMFER core, US), me from Germany, and Fortunate M. Phaka from South African Y4AW. I am very happy to be part of the big GMFER 'family'.

Thanks to Corrie for taking this photo :-)
Thanks to Corrie for taking this photo :-)

GMFER Demo Johannesburg

On the next day, 24th September 2016, CITES Conference of Parties CoP17 would start its work, and in around 150 cities all over the world, demonstrations were taking place, calling for Appendix I (highest protection status) for elephants, rhinos, and lions. The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos had been the general organizer of these demonstrations, with hundreds of local organizers in all these places.  Of course, also in Johannesburg a demonstration had been planned which started from a park in the center of the city.

In a corner of George Lea Park around 1000 people gathered for the march. Dex Kotze and Rosemary Alles, the GMFER-organizers, were holding speeches, and Shubert Mwarabu, our Tanzanian singer, performed some of his songs the subject of all is the conservation of Africa's wildlife. Kevin Richardson, the well-known "Lion Whisperer", was also attending the march. (On the very right in the right photo below.)

Then the march started - a rhino figure in front, with a long trail of people following. Besides myself, several other SSN-members were joining the march. Here in the lower photo on the right: Iris Ho of HSI (Humane Society International) and Alex Hofford of WildAid.

A lot of pressmen were there, and indeed the demonstration was even mentioned in German TV news. All kinds of people attended the march - also rangers with their sniffer dogs.

By mistake the police led us just up to the front of the Sandton Convention Center, where preparations for the opening ceremony to CoP17 were being underway. So in the end the demonstration was seen and heard exactly by those people we intended to address: The CITES parties. And all of them heard what we wanted: "Appendix 1! Now!"

From inside the Sandton Convention Center, CITES participants were watching us while we were standing outside demanding Appendix I.

Starting CoP17

Inside the building, the opening ceremony for the Conference of Parties (CoP17) began. South Africa entertained its guests with music, dance, and artists. The audience was even given a course in banging the drums which it seemed to enjoy greatly.

After the ceremony, by chance, I saw the German delegation together with CITES-secretary John Scanlon. He and the German environment minister posed for a symbolic hand-over of the data base IvoryID which is to facilitate the identification of confiscated ivory.

Then the labour on the CITES working programme began.

On 26th September elephant matters started to be discussed. When I returned home from my trip I read more about the results of the meetings: Elephants did not reach Appendix I for all populations, but at least Namibia's and Zimbabwe's proposals for new ivory trade were rejected. The parties also agreed to end the DMM (Decision Making Mechanism, a system for trade in ivory), and they also agreed on the closure of all domestic markets. This was a great win for the elephants, although it still has to show how much progress these decisions will bring practically. In all cases, as CITES failed to uplist all elephant populations to Appendix I (the highest protection status), it is still a devided message that reaches poachers and ivory buyers: "Some ivory is OK, and some is not." And: "Today we do not want international ivory trade, but we think of trading again in future."

There is still a long way to go until the battle to save elephants is won.