Lions, Leopards and Giraffes Now Migratory Species, But at What Cost?


In October, at the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in Manila, Philippines, the CMS parties elected to list African lions, leopards and giraffes on Appendix II of CMS. While this listing changes little in terms of management of the species (and has no implications on harvest or trade in species), the precedent of considering these species as “migratory” for the sake of listing them on another UN convention has now been established. This listing may not result in any marked improvement in the conservation of these species, but it certainly took a toll on the CMS convention itself.

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SCI Foundation was at the 12th CMS CoP, working hand in hand with our partners from FACE, CIC, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), and several African governments, to oppose these listings. Our issue with the listing proposals was not based on an argument that these species couldn’t benefit from more conservation funding and attention, rather it was a principled opposition to the inclusion of non-migratory terrestrial mammals on a convention designed to protect truly migratory species.

CMS was ratified in 1983, and has had some remarkable success in improving the conservation of migratory species such as bats, whales and dolphins, and numerous birds. The formation of the Afro-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) has resulted in great success in protecting the flyways of migratory waterbirds. For species that migrate across half the globe, it makes sense to reach agreement among all range states to conserve habitat at each stage of the migration route.

Yet now a dangerous precedent has been established that threatens to undermine the credibility of the entire convention, which is the willful perversion of the definition of “migratory” to include species that merely happen to live on both sides of an international boundary. CMS first stretched this definition when it chose to list gorillas back in 2008. At the time, numerous parties took issue with defining gorillas as migratory, but their conservation status was so dire across the board that a CMS listing was deemed beneficial, given that it called for multi-lateral agreements among the gorilla range states.

CMS CoP 12 Twitter Photo

(Photo Courtesy CMS Press Release:

Today, giraffes, lions and leopards join the ranks of official migratory species, along with geese, ducks and whales. They are now listed on CMS Appendix II, thanks to the advocacy of a number of non-range states influenced by the urging of numerous animal welfare organizations. SCI Foundation worked closely with South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and others to develop science-based arguments opposing these listings. These range states stood on the principle that these species are not migratory, and thus CMS has no authority to list them. Furthermore, they argued that the conservation status of these species in their countries is solid, and would not benefit from a CMS listing. These countries have protected habitat, put in place strong national legislation, and signed binding international treaties with their neighbors to protect transboundary habitats, making a CMS listing irrelevant and unnecessary.

In its entire existence, CMS has always worked on a consensus basis. Proposals to list species have always been adopted unanimously, by consensus. That spirit of harmony ended in October, when a handful of proponents chose to refuse to negotiate with range states that had done a good job of conserving their wildlife, and instead pushed for majority rule. In the end, a vote was held for the first time in CMS history, and the proponents had their way, the species were listed. But in doing so, CMS paid a price. The spirit of consensus is gone, and in the future species listing proposals will be much more contentious and the subject of intense debate. A number of range states have already expressed their intention to formally declare their populations of these species exempt from this listing, which is allowed under the convention text.

It remains to be seen whether the CMS parties will choose to correct course before the ship runs aground. If a course correction isn’t made soon, the Convention on Migratory Species will have been hijacked by animal welfare organizations intent using it as a means to provide strict protection to every species on earth. It will have been perverted into a convention on transboundary conservation, and hundreds of truly migratory species that could have benefited from CMS attention will be the ultimate losers. SCI Foundation will continue to engage in CMS, to push back against these forces, and will continue to stand solidly beside our government partners that believe in the principles of sustainable use and national sovereignty.


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