CITES Decisions Map the Future of Wildlife Trade

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental officials from 171 countries are leaving The Hague today after adopting more than 100 formal decisions that update the regulations governing international wildlife trade.

Whales

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, closed its triennial meeting by once more turning back attempts by Japan, Iceland and their pro-whaling allies to lift restrictions on international commercial trade in whale products.

whale
A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Australia near Sydney. (Photo courtesy Bass and Flinders Cruises)
After a heated debate that threatened to bring the meeting to a standstill, the CITES delegates adopted an Australian resolution that no reviews of whale species should take place as long as the International Whaling Commission's ban on commercial whaling continues. This means that no whales will be subject to the CITES periodic review process.

The pro-whaling countries had hoped that following such a review, CITES would recommend that the protection currently extended to some whale species should be relaxed.

Niki Entrup of the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said, “Pro-whaling countries have tried every trick in the book to try to get this strong decision by CITES overturned, but they have failed resoundingly. The message from the international community in favor of the protection of whales couldn't be more clear."

New issues on the conference agenda included the need to protect the livelihoods of poor communities dependent on wildlife trade and the growth in wildlife trade over the Internet.

Marine Species

At the CITES conference, extensive discussions on marine species led to the inclusion in CITES of the European eel, a popular food in many countries. The eel joins a growing list of high-value fish and other marine species whose trade is managed through the CITES permit system to ensure that stocks are not depleted.

This trend reflects growing concern about the accelerating decline of the world's oceans and fisheries, said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

Trade restrictions were also approved for sawfish – large rays related to sharks, with long toothed snouts that resemble saws. CITES delegates protected six of the world's seven sawfish species by listing them in Appendix I of the Convention, which bans all international commercial trade.

Sawfish are traded for their fins, meat, and their snouts, and as live animals for exhibition.

But two globally threatened shark species were left behind. By a narrow margin CITES delegates declined to adopt protections for the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle shark.

spiny
Spiny dogfish are caught for the fish and chips trade. (Photo by J. Stafford-Deitsch courtesy Shark Info)
Spiny dogfish sharks are Critically Endangered in the northeast Atlantic, and porbeagles are Critically Endangered in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The porbeagle, one of the most commercially valuable of all shark species, is traded for meat, byproducts, and fins. Spiny dogfish is traded for its meat which is used in European fish and chips dishes. Its fins, oil, leather and other products are also in demand.

The decision on these two sharks, made on World Ocean Day June 8, dismayed conservationists.

"Shark species worldwide are in a tailspin due to overfishing and poor management, and often no management at all," said Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director of Greenpeace USA, a member organization of the Species Survival Network. "CITES is one of the few tools available to bring the global trade in sharks under appropriate control, and stop the rapid slide toward extinction we're seeing today."

Red, pink and other coral species in the genus Corallium will not be better protected from over-exploitation after a proposal from the United States to list Corallium in Appendix II that was adopted in committee was overturned in the plenary session on Friday.

coral
Red coral growing in Italian waters (Photo courtesy Rairo)
WWF and TRAFFIC say these corals, which are used mainly for the manufacture of jewellery, have been over-harvested as a result of lack of international trade controls and consistent management plan.

"These corals will continue to suffer from this free-for-all situation," said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. "Today’s decision was a question of expediency rather than a fully examination of the facts. Commercial lobbying won through."

Pink and red corals are used to create jewellery and art. They are found throughout the world's tropical and temperate seas and are harvested in the Mediterranean and western Pacific.

Corallium populations off parts of the Italian, French and Spanish coasts are no longer commercially viable, while in the Western Pacific they have been depleted within five years of their discovery and harvest is shifting to newly discovered populations.

There are no international trade controls in place, nor any consistent management plan, TRAFFIC and WWF say. And the life histories of most Corallium species, such as late maturation, slow growth and low fecundity make them particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation, according to both organizations.

Elephants

Negotiators are hailing as a triumph the agreement by African elephant range states at the CITES conference to allow some trade in elephant ivory before a nine-year ban is imposed.

CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade worldwide in 1989. But four southern African countries want to sell at least 60 tons of legally acquired ivory from healthy and well managed herds, saying they need the proceeds for conservation.

elephant
The largest tusker in the South Africa's Kruger National Park (Photo courtesy SANParks)
Other African range states and most environmentalists say that even a legal ivory trade will encourage elephant poachers.

Under the compromise by African range states Wednesday, each of four southern African countries will be permitted to make a single sale of ivory in addition to the total sale of 60 tons that was agreed in principle in 2002 and approved by the CITES STanding Committee on June 2.

After these shipments have been completed, no new proposals for further sales from these four countries will be considered by CITES during a "resting period" of nine years. Online auction site eBay said Tuesday it will ban all international trading of elephant ivory in an announcement timed to coordinate with the CITES conference. The auctioneer said it would start the ban by the end of June.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, said eBay's action is the first online international trading ban of elephant ivory.

"IFAW believes that this is an important step forward but that a total ban is ultimately needed, and we will continue to work with eBay and others to implement this," said Peter Pueschel, head of the IFAW's global program against wildlife trading.

IFAW said a survey it conducted in February found that 94 percent of elephant ivory traded on eBay was potentially illegal. The survey found that eBay's policies differed by country and were not enforced.

Tigers

Raising captive tigers for international trade in tiger parts was rejected by CITES member countries Wednesday. China was urged to phase out its commercial tiger farms, a decision conservationists are calling a victory for wild tiger conservation.

Investors in captive tiger breeding centers in China have been pressuring the Chinese government to lift its 14 year old ban on trade in tiger parts so they can legally sell products like tiger bone wine and tiger meat.

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A farmed tiger cut in half by smugglers that were caught by Thai highway police. May 2004. (Photo courtesy Save the Tiger Fund)
These facilities have acknowledged stockpiling tiger carcasses in the hopes that the trade ban will be lifted.

Three countries with wild tigers – India, Nepal and Bhutan – were joined by the United States in urging China to phase out these facilities that house nearly 5,000 big cats.

With leadership from these countries, the 171 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) adopted a strong tiger trade decision by consensus.

"India spoke out strongly and courageously for their wild tigers, along with Bhutan and Nepal," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of WWF's Global Species Programme.

"China has said that it will not lift its ban without listening to scientific opinion from around the world. The world spoke today and urged China not to reopen any trade in tiger parts and to increase protection for tigers in the wild," she said.

Other Land Animals

Delegates approved Cambodia's proposal to forbid trade of the slow loris, a small nocturnal primate native to South and Southeast Asia.

Algeria's proposals to include the Barbary red deer and Cuvier's gazelle in Appendix I were rejected. The European Union, United Arab Emirates and Japan noted the lack of evidence of international trade in these species, while range states and others stressed the difficulty in obtaining data on illegal trade.

Algeria withdrew its proposal to list the Dorcas gazelle in Appendix I, which forbids international trade. Delegates agreed by consensus to include the slender-horned gazelle in Appendix I.

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The bobcat will remain protected, it can be traded under the CITES permit system. (Photo by Bill Bouton)
The United States' proposal to delete the bobcat from Appendix II was rejected. The U.S. delegates argued that the species is thriving and that look-alike issues are no longer a concern due to improved identification techniques. Range state Mexico opposed the proposal and, with Humane Society International, noted a lack of up-to-date information on bobcat populations, problems differentiating bobcat parts from those of more endangered lynx species, and noted that the CITES Animals Committee is reviewing all cat species.

The Guatemalan beaded lizard was uplisted from Appendix II to I, so that all international trade is forbidden. Endemic to the Motagua Valley, it belongs to a unique family of lizards with venom glands. There are fewer than 250 of these lizards remaining due to land use change, illegal traffic for collectors, and extermination by local people based on long-held but false beliefs about the nature of their venom.

By contrast, the success of strong CITES protection over many years for the black caiman of Brazil has allowed the population to recover to an estimated 16 million. The conference decided that carefully managed international trade could resume as a way of providing benefits to the local people who live with these dangerous animals, so they have been placed on Appendix II.

"Humanity's appetite for wild plants and animals and for wildlife products will clearly expand over the coming decades. We need to think creatively about how to manage the wildlife trade if we are to meet human needs while conserving vulnerable species, said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

"Finding the right balance will require a healthy respect for science, market dynamics and the needs of people who rely on wildlife for their livelihoods," he said.

Trees

A new timber species was added to the list of CITES protected species. The trade in brazilwood will now require CITES permits, although exports of bows for musical instruments are exempted.

But the European Union withdrew its proposal to include Cedrela in CITES Appendix II, which allows trade in a species under strict permit conditions.

Cedrela
One of the Cedrela species, Cedrela odorata, growing in Costa Rica (Photo courtesy C. Navarro)
Cedrela, also called Spanish cedar, includes seven species in the mahogany family found in Central and South America that are in demand for furniture and finish carpentry.

WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, criticized the CITES' failure to support Cedrela conservation.

"It is a shame how this opportunity was missed," said Ximena Barrera from WWF Colombia. "We lost a decade of conservation action for another tropical tree, big-leaf mahogany, because it took 10 years to include it on CITES Appendix II. As a result, this species is now on the verge of commercial extinction. The same is likely to happen with Cedrela if the current exploitation levels continue."

Today Australia offered US$200,000 to fund two posts in the CITES Secretariat to address illegal timber trade, and announced a high-level meeting on this issue to be held in late July.

The Future

After lengthy budget negotiations and three votes which failed to achieve the required 75 percent majority, delegates took a short break and returned to approve a proposal by Ireland for a six percent increase in the budget.

Qatar offered to host the next Conference of the Parties and presented a video of his country, and delegates adopted by acclamation the time and venue for next COP to take place in Doha, Qatar, in 2010.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.