Whales Win, Black Rhinos Lose at CITES Meeting

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, June 6, 2007 (ENS) - Japan and Iceland once again failed to remove whale protections, as their proposals to the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, were defeated today. But the future of black rhinos is at risk after Kenya lost its attempt to repeal hunting quotas granted to Namibia and South Africa for these endangered animals.

Japan Loses Second Whale Fight in a Week

Japan's proposal for CITES to review the status of all great whale species was defeated by a vote of 55 to 28 with 13 abstentions. Japan had hoped that, following this review, CITES would recommend that the protection currently afforded to some whale species should be lifted.

Japanese delegate Yoshikiyo Kondo proposed a periodic review of all cetaceans listed for protection by CITES. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Iceland had proposed that CITES review the current protection for the North Atlantic fin whale with a view to allowing international trade in the animals which it began hunting commercially last year.

A counter proposal from Australia that no review of any great whale, including the fin whale, should occur while the International Whaling Commission's commercial whaling ban is in place, was adopted with 60 votes for, 23 against, and 13 abstentions.

If accepted, Japan and Iceland's proposals could have led to the resumption of international commercial trade in whale products for the first time in more than 20 years.

"This is the 15th time whaling nations have tried to reopen trade since 1997, and the 15th time they've failed," said Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director for Greenpeace USA. "It's high time they accepted that commercial whale trade has no place in the modern world."

The decisions were made by a Committee within CITES and must still be ratified by all Parties at the end of the conference on June 15.

Endangered fin whale feeds on a tidal upwelling of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Fin whales are the second largest of the great whales, only the blue whales are larger. (Photo courtesy Atlantic Herring)
"Japan and Iceland have plenty of time to lobby to reopen debate and overturn this vote," said Niki Entrup of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

"The likelihood that Japan would be successful a second time around is very low given the consistent opposition by CITES Parties to reopening the whale trade," said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation and chairman of the Species Survival Network.

The vote against allow trade in whale products comes one week after attempts by Japan and its allies to resume commercial whaling failed at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, IWC.

Patrick Ramage with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said, "Today's decision and the strong conservation majority at last week's IWC meeting signal an emerging global consensus for whale conservation in the 21st century."

Black Rhino Hunting Quotas Upheld

Endangered black rhinos, killed for their horns, did not fare so well at the CITES meeting.

Kenya's attempt to repeal the hunting quotas granted to Namibia and South Africa at the last CITES conference in 2004 failed today. South Africa and Namibia won with 65 votes against Kenya's 15 with 11 abstentions.

Offers by Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo to pay for the excess male black rhinos in South Africa and Namibia as well as meet their translocation costs were ignored.

Benson Okita, who presented Kenya's proposal, expressed disappointment with emerging voting patterns at the CITES meeting, where he said regional blocs and political interests take center stage while animals or species that are truly endangered suffer.

Botswana and Japan supported the continued hunting of black rhinos and rejected other options, including sale to other African rhino range states to re-establish populations that have become extinct.

Kenyan delegate Benson Okita called for the destruction of rhino-horn stockpiles except for educational or scientific purposes. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"It's very disappointing that no matter how many facts you give, parties come to the conference with a concluded stand on an issue and it's extremely difficult to convince them otherwise," Okita said.

Since the black rhino quota was established at the 2004 CITES conference, one sub-species of rhino, Diceros bicornis longipes, which only existed in Cameroon, has been declared extinct.

In Rwanda, just one black rhino of the sub-species, D.b. michaeli, survives after one was killed in 2006, Okita said.

Black rhinos are found only in Africa. The wild population of rhinos declined by more than 90 percent in 60 years reaching a low number of 2,410 in 1995.

Better protection and management allowed the population to increase to 3,610 by 2005, according to International Rhino Foundation records. However, Okita points out, this figure remains low compared to an estimated population of 65,000 rhinos in 1970.

"This population increase is of course very encouraging," said Dr. Sue Lieberman, director of WWF's Global Species Programme. "But better law enforcement and protection measures are still needed for African rhinos, particularly in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and Zimbabwe."

The body of a rhino poached for its horns in Zimbabwe. (Photo courtesy Zambezi Society)
Rhino horns are shipped to illegal markets, mainly in Asia and the Middle East, where they are used as traditional medicines and to make traditional dagger handles. East and Southeast Asia and Yemen are important destinations, and trade appears to be on the increase since 2000, according to WWF and the wildlife monitoring organization TRAFFIC.

The CITES Secretariat has called for better cross-border collaboration between countries along rhino horn smuggling routes. Secure management of horn stocks has also proved important to prevent horns leaking to the illegal market, Lieberman said.

Poaching is most severe in Zimbabwe and the DRC, where 60 percent of the rhino population was illegally killed between 2003 and 2005, according to TRAFFIC.

In Zimbabwe, poaching accounted for two-thirds of all rhino mortalities over the same period, affecting one in eight animals, and some key populations are in decline.

Both DRC and Zimbabwe have the poorest record for seizing rhino horns in the illegal trade, with just 13 percent of lost horns recovered in DRC and and eight percent recovered Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2005.

Across Africa as a whole, law enforcement agencies recovered 42 percent of rhino horns entering illegal trade.

From now through June 15, the CITES meeting will consider 40 new proposals for amending the rules for specific species. Many of these proposals reflect growing international concern about overfishing and excessive logging.

In addition, the government of the Netherlands will organize CITES' first Ministerial debate on Wednesday June 13. The debate will focus on timber, fisheries and how CITES can best support the enforcement efforts of its Parties to combat illegal trade.

Gerda Verburg, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Netherlands, presides over the 2007 CITES Conference of Parties. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Other issues on the agenda include the adoption of a new CITES strategic vision for the period 2008 to 2013, the enforcement of CITES regulations and the control of illegal trade, and the potential impacts of CITES measures on the livelihoods of the rural poor, who often must manage wildlife as a matter of urgent necessity.

Estabished in 1973 by member governments, called Parties, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species recognizes that commercial trade in these plants and animals may be beneficial both to conservation and to the livelihoods of local people.

When wildlife trade is unregulated, it can damage populations of species, especially those that are already vulnerable as a result of other factors, such as habitat loss.

CITES membership now stands at 171 Parties, making the Convention is a powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild plants and animals.

To view all proposals before the 2007 CITES meeting, go to: http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/14/prop/index.shtml

For more ENS coverage of the 2007 CITES meeting visit:

CITES Permits 60 Tons of Elephant Ivory to Be Sold

U.S. Backs Tiger, Elephant, Whale Conservation at CITES

Europe Urged to Restrain Booming Wildlife Trade

Kenya Rallies Support for 20 Year Elephant Ivory Trade Ban

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