Governments to Rewrite Trade Rules for Imperiled Species

WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2007 (ENS) - From June 3 to 15, more than a thousand delegates from 171 countries will convene in The Hague to determine the fate of 40 animal and plant species at risk of over-exploitation due to international trade.

Government Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, will consider new proposals affecting the global protection of African elephants, Asian cats, whales, North American bobcats, leopards, rhinos, sharks, red and pink corals, slow lorises, and a host of plant and tree species.

Many of these proposals reflect growing international concern about the accelerating destruction of the world’s marine and forest resources through overfishing and excessive logging, said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

Willem Wijnstekers is secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES. (Photo courtesy CITES)
"It is vital that CITES continue to evolve so that it can respond effectively to the growing challenges facing our natural environment and the communities that most depend upon it," Wijnstekers. "The debate over the inclusion of additional high-value fishery and timber species will be an important indicator of the direction CITES is likely to take over the coming years."

"Widely considered to be the largest international conservation Treaty, CITES matters enormously," said Will Travers, CEO of the UK-based Born Free Foundation and president of the Species Survival Network, a coalition of 80 organizations from 30 countries that support strong implementation of the CITES regulations.

"It is perhaps the single greatest global tool for conserving wildlife from the potentially damaging impacts of trade," said Travers.

"The decisions made at CITES are critically important for species threatened by illegal or unsustainable trade," said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America, a wildlife trade monitoring group affiliated with WWF.

"The priority species listed here either cannot sustain the current levels of harvest and trade or the illegal trade that continues despite it being banned under CITES," said Allan. "The CITES Conference is an opportunity for the world's governments to do something and the United States has a major role to play in making CITES work."

CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989, but the controversy over trade in African elephant ivory is once again on the CITES agenda.

Botswana and Namibia have petitioned for the weakening of international trade controls, while, Kenya and Mali, supported by numerous other African elephant range states, propose the establishment of a 20 year moratorium on even considering renewal of elephant ivory trade.

Elephant ivory confiscated from poachers (Photo by Martin Harvey courtesy WWF/Canon)
Conservationists say lifting the current ban on trading in elephant ivory could be disastrous for elephant populations worldwide.

"Proposals to further relax the current prohibition on trade in elephant ivory are particularly indefensible when evidence strongly suggests that seizures of illegal ivory are at their highest level since the ban was first introduced 17 years ago," Travers said.

"Allowing any legal trade in ivory simply will add to the deadly pressure already experienced by many elephant populations across Africa and Asia," said Travers. "Are CITES Parties seriously willing to knowingly contribute to a slaughter reminiscent of the days when innumerable elephant carcasses unceremoniously littered the African savannah?"

Allan said, "The ongoing poaching of elephants and illegal international trade in ivory is stimulated by rampant ivory sales in some countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. Despite previous CITES decisions, and valiant efforts of some countries, these markets persist.

"The time has come to put political will behind serious efforts to close down these illegal and unregulated ivory markets, the true driver of elephant poaching," he said.

This year’s meeting promises to be dominated by marine species issues. Japan has submitted a document proposing a process to circumvent international prohibitions on whaling and international commercial trade in whale products.

CITES Parties will also consider increasing protection for sawfish, cardinalfish, the Brazilian population of the spiny lobster - two species of sharks, the porbeagle and the spiny dogfish.

Populations of the seven species of sawfish have drastically declined. They are traded as live animals for public aquariums, and also for their fins and meat. Their distinctive saw-like snouts are sold as souvenirs and ceremonial weapons, while other body parts are used for traditional medicines. Sawfish are found off the Atlantic coast of the United States.

WWF is calling upon governments to include these species in CITES Appendix I, which bans all international commercial trade, and the the Species Survival Network agrees

"Overexploited species such as sawfish will benefit from an international prohibition on commercial trade," Travers said.


Porbeagle shark is in demand (Photo courtesy NOAA)
In Europe, the meat of the porbeagle and spiny dogfish is consumed, the latter under the misnomer "rock salmon" in British fish and chips and as a smoked meat delicacy in Germany. Their fins are exported to Asia for use in shark fin soup. The medium-sized, highly migratory porbeagle shark is also used as fertilizer.

Conservationists urge that these shark species be included in CITES Appendix II, which allows commercial trade on the condition that specimens are legally obtained and that the trade is not detrimental to the wild population.

Tigers, rhinos and three species of primates - gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans - are still declining despite in numbers years of CITES protections.

WWF is calling on governments and CITES to enforce existing laws and impose stiff penalties to deter would-be traders in live animals, and parts used in traditional Asian medicines.

Some 5,000 species of animals and 25,000 species of plants already are protected by CITES regulations.

"For over 30 years CITES has played an important role in ensuring that the wildlife trade is managed sustainably and does not threaten the survival of any species," said Executive Director Achim Steiner of the UN Environment Programme, which administers the CITES secretariat.

Steiner said, "The acute challenges of the 21st century – from achieving the 2010 target for reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity to realizing the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 – make CITES more relevant today than ever before."

To view all the trade proposals up before the CITES meeting, click here.