States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order

By Sheila Jasanoff | Go to book overview

4

Co-producing CITES and the African elephant

Charis Thompson

In her introduction to this volume in Chapter 1, Sheila Jasanoff analyzed a number of aspects of “co-production” typical of contemporary uncertain multi-sited scientific and technological practice, including developments around representation, identity, discourse and institutions. In this chapter I describe a transition in the status of the African elephant, from a universal species of charismatic megafauna endangered enough to need protection from all off-take, to a regionally differentiated species needing absolute protection in many areas but susceptible to regulated sustainable off-take in some locations. For this transition to occur, CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora), the international treaty which legislates international trade in endangered species, also had to change. In its early years it had emerged as a convention whose famous “appendices” listed and thus protected endangered flora and fauna under the banner of unified scientific species making up an imaginary universal commons. This effectively banished those who disagreed with decisions to include certain species or sub-species on the various appendices to trading outside the convention. The decision regarding the African elephant that I describe here was part of CITES' subsequent transition to an instrument capable of contextualizing sub-populations of endangered species by using its appendix listings conditionally, depending on local and regional conservation criteria. This effectively internalized differing opinions on the viability of trade in particular species to the convention, and thus meant that varying levels of protection and trade could be regulated within the terms of the convention. This co-production of an evolving African elephant and an evolving treaty reflected intense efforts by African conservationists and other stakeholders not just to intensify, but also to indigenize biodiversity conservation and its associated tourist economies in line with African regional and local perceptions about development, land use, wildlife, and local people. The more indigenized African elephant became a means of negotiating these African priorities, and the evolution in CITES allowed the differing philosophies and circumstances of those owning and managing the land and wildlife in question to be incorporated in the treaty itself. Interestingly, this indigenization of the African elephant allowed it to make demands on the global conservation community that the earlier more universal

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