June 18, 2007
THE HAGUE - The 171-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in The Netherlands drew to a close on Friday after two weeks, with elephants, tigers and whales among those winning temporary reprieves from exploitation. Others were not as lucky. Following are some of the main decisions of the 100 adopted at the convention.
Elephants historically take center stage at CITES, although this year most of the negotiating was done behind the scenes during meetings of the African elephant range states. On June 14, after two weeks of negotiating, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe agreed not to propose additional ivory trade from their countries for at least nine years, or 2016 at the earliest.
The nine-year reprieve will give elephants a break," said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., director, wildlife trade program, The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International. "It will also give African countries time to improve law enforcement efforts to stem poaching and illegal trade before any further ivory trade from these countries is considered."
Just prior to the CITES conference, a CITES Standing Committee approved the export of 60 metric tones of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to Japan. The date when the ivory will be exported was not announced.
CITES member countries condemned efforts by China to open domestic trade in tiger parts in response to pressure from a few Chinese tiger farms. While China argued that it has a well-managed industry and that captive breeding would relieve the pressure on wild tigers, the majority agreed that it was not worth the risk. India, the traditional Chinese medicine community, and conservationists warned of stimulating the decreased demand for tiger parts. Breaking an 18-year deadlock, the conference members agreed that "Tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts or derivatives."
On June 6, less than a week after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted to uphold its moratorium on commercial whaling, CITES Parties rejected an effort by Japan and other whaling nations to undermine a related ban on international trade in whale products. An agreement proposed by Australia deferring to the IWC on scientific reviews of whales as long as the IWC moratorium was in place, was adopted by an even stronger majority. In a preemptive strike on all future proposals at CITES to undermine the IWC and sever CITES deference to the moratorium, both decisions were ratified on June 15.
"Both the IWC and CITES have now spoken in favor of whale protection and conservation," said Kitty Block, director, treaty law, oceans and wildlife protection, The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International. "It is clear that there is no international will to resume commercial whaling or international trade in their parts."
The EU proposals to add porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks to the list of CITES-protected marine fish species failed to be adopted by a narrow margin on June 8. Despite stiff opposition from the fishing industry and countries that oppose international regulation of fisheries trade, proposals for both species came within a few votes of the two-thirds majority needed to succeed. The spiny dogfish proposal was reopened late on the last day of the meeting, but time was running out and countries' tolerance for debates had been practically erased.
"We commend the United States for its decision to support these shark proposals despite intense pressure from its fishing interests," said Rebecca Regnery, program manager, Humane Society International. "The fact that these proposals came so close to being adopted shows that the global community realizes that sharks are in serious trouble and is willing to cast aside economic gain to protect them." The EU decided that the porbeagle proposal required further study and decided not to bring it up again until the next CITES conference.
Delegates did agree to a broader plan that will further expand CITES role in shark conservation in the coming years which provides a framework to go beyond individual species and consider trade's impact on sharks on a much larger scale.
CITES member countries also agreed to ban trade in six of the seven species of sawfish, a species that is closely related to sharks. Australia, in a lapse of its usual position as a leader in marine conservation, was successful in exempting the seventh species to allow trade in live animals from the Northern Australian population to appropriate aquariums for primarily conservation purposes. Animal protectionists and conservationists, while relieved that this critically endangered species will be protected from most trade, are dismayed that Australia put its population in jeopardy due to pressure from their industry.
The bobcat, also known as the American lynx, will remain protected under a United Nations treaty despite an effort by the United States to eliminate such protection. "We applaud the decision to protect these animals," said Telecky. "Bobcats are the most highly traded cat species in the world, and CITES protection is vital to insure that trade does not harm bobcat or other related lynx populations."