IFC Performance Standards as a Tool to Fight Illegal Wildlife Trade

In 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force. CITES is an agreement signed by 178 nations and aimed at controlling the international trade of endangered flora and fauna so as to not threaten their populations. But the problem with this agreement is the same problem as with all international agreements and protocols: it’s not enforceable. Many of the main international hubs for illegal wildlife trade, some of which include Mexico, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, parts of Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia (WWF, n.d.), have all at least signed CITES, but agreements such as these are not very helpful in stopping uncontrolled trade. For example, Vietnam signed CITES in 1994 (CITES, n.d.), but illegal trade of endangered wildlife products is currently skyrocketing there and all over Southeast Asia. A large part of this can be attributed to a rumor that spread rapidly across Vietnam in 2008 that a politician was cured of cancer through the use of rhino horn (Watts, 2011). Although the name and medical status of this supposed cured politician has been lost in the frenzy of the rhino horn craze, demand for rhino horn is still on the rise today, and rhino populations are suffering on an international scale.

Black Rhinos in South Africa.

Vietnam did not waste time in capitalizing on this rhino horn craze; the population of rhinos in Vietnam was virtually extinct. The last individual was found dead in 2010 as a result of poaching (Brook et al., 2011). Since then, South Africa’s black rhino population which is listed as critically endangered (IUCN, 2012) has been suffering due to the ever increasing demand for rhino horn. South Africa has the largest population of black rhinos, but more and more are being killed each year (SOS, n.d.).


What can be done about the illegal trade of black rhino horn if CITES is so difficult to enforce locally? We need to find a local mechanism to stop poaching. But how? One way to do this could be to incorporate CITES into International Financial Corporation (IFC) performance standards. The IFC finances and invests in projects in developing countries. Proponents must comply with their standards in order to obtain funding (IFC, n.d.). If CITES were incorporated into IFC standards, it could force these nations into the conservation effort. For example, as a part of Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources, the addition of a CITES paragraph could require a biodiversity assessment in the area of development for all species listed under CITES. If any CITES species are present, the proponent would have to pay a CITES tax depending on the amount of CITES species present. These CITES taxes could then fund conservation programs for CITES listed species around the world and funds could be allocated according to species populations that are in critical states, such as the black rhino in South Africa.

Additionally, IFC PS 8 states that “projects should contribute to the conservation of cultural heritage… where the project has no intrinsic contribution, additional programs should be undertaken to promote and enhance the conservation aims of the protected area” (IFC, 2012). Black rhinos are a major part of South African culture and are even featured on their currency. Any program or development implemented on protected lands where rhino populations occur should contribute to the conservation effort by initializing programs and funding for better surveillance and patrol.


A South African 10 rand note which features the Black Rhino, shown here with a bloody horn to symbolize the slaughter of rhinos taking place.

Proper funding is key in the effort to save the black rhino population, and to conserve endangered species in general. Much of the success of nations that have made progress in black rhino conservation can be attributed to proper funding. For example, Nepal received a 5 million dollar grant from Google to fund a drone program for anti-poaching surveillance and has been successful in greatly reducing the amount of rhino poaching (Merchant, 2012; Ruth et al., 2013). Save The Rhino Trust (SRT) in Namibia received its largest ever grant from Save Our Species (SOS) to fund better poaching patrol and resulted in 357 poach free days in 2012.


Brook, S., Van Coeverden de Groot, P., Mahood, S., & Long, B. (2011). Extinction of the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) from Vietnam. WWF report.

CITES. (n.d.). List of Contracting Parties. Reterived from http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/parties/alphabet.php

IFC. (n.d.). International Finance Corporation. Retrieved from http://wbi.worldbank.org/wbdm/partner/international-finance-corporation-ifc

IFC. (2012). Performance Standard 8: Cultural Heritage.

IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Diceros bicornis. Retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/6557/0

Merchant, B. (2012). Google Just Spent $5 Million on Drones to Spy on Rhino Poachers. Retrieved from http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/google-bought-drones-to-track-wildlife

Ruth, S., Pun, M., & Stone, S. (2013) Nepal Wireless Revisited. Information Technology in Developing Countries. (23)1.

Watts, J. (2011). ‘Cure for cancer’ rumor killed off Vietnam’s rhinos. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/25/cure-cancer-rhino-horn-vietnam

WWF. (n.d.). Illegal Wildlife Trade. Retrieved from http://worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade


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