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Mixed results: International wildlife trade convention draws to an end


The Hague, The Netherlands – The 14th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, ended today with some sound conservation decisions, but also missed opportunities.

“In some respects, the conference has been a success, with some key decisions taken on eels, sawfishes, elephants and tigers, but it’s a serious concern that countries missed the opportunity to assist with conservation of several commercially traded species,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF Global Species Programme.

Missed opportunities
In particular, the EU withdrew its proposal to list Cedrela — a group of tropical tree species found in Latin America — on CITES Appendix II following strong pressure from Latin American and Caribbean countries. WWF and TRAFFIC are disappointed that an opportunity was missed to use a CITES listing to ensure better management and measures to control trade of this threatened species.

Species listed on Appendix I of the international wildlife convention cannot be traded internationally. Species listed on Appendix II can be traded internationally but with strict regulations.

“It took ten years to include another tropical tree, big-leaf mahogany, on CITES Appendix II and, as a result, this species is now on the verge of commercial extinction,” said Cliona O’Brien, Senior Policy Analyst, WWF’s Global Species Programme. “The same is likely to happen with Cedrela if the current exploitation levels continue.”

All the other proposals to list tropical timber species on Appendix II were withdrawn, with one exception — Brazil wood was listed with an amendment to exclude certain items made from it, such as musical bows.

Another disappointment was the overturning of a decision to list red, pink and other coral species in the genus Corallium on Appendix II. According to WWF and TRAFFIC, 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 TRAFFIC Executive Director Steven Broad. “Today’s decision was a question of expediency rather than a full examination of the facts. Commercial lobbying won through.”

Mixed marine results
WWF and TRAFFIC regret that delegates did not list two shark species — spiny dogfish and porbeagle — on Appendix II.

“The failure to list spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks was especially disappointing,” added Broad.

“This meeting could go down in history as a critical missed opportunity to halt the decline of these important fisheries.”

However, the listing of seven species of sawfish (ray-like sharks) on Appendix I was greatly welcomed. One sawfish species found in Australia was included in Appendix II, but only to allow trade in live animals to public aquaria for conservation purposes only.

As in past CITES meetings, issues related to African elephants dominated many discussions. African elephant range countries at the meeting agreed to a nine-year suspension of ivory trading. There was also agreement to allow four southern African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe — to sell stocks of their ivory in a one-off sale. Proceeds will go to local conservation efforts. After the sale, the suspension will take effect.

“For the first time in almost 20 years, opposing factions were speaking with one voice to move the ivory debate forward, but the key issues of how to tackle elephant poaching and illegal domestic ivory markets in Africa and Asia remain unanswered,” said Dr Lieberman.

In a major victory for big cat conservation, raising captive tigers for trade in their parts was rejected by CITES members, and called on China to phase out its large-scale commercial tiger farms. In a surprise announcement, the CITES Secretariat said it had asked the Chinese government to investigate a tiger farm implicated in illegally selling tiger meat.

“A legal market in China for products made from farmed tigers would increase demand and allow criminals to ‘launder’ products made from tigers poached from the wild,” said Steve Broad of TRAFFIC. “Tiger numbers in the wild are so precarious that we cannot risk any actions that could jeopardize them further.”

Vision for the future
In an attempt to link CITES to the broader conservation and development agenda, delegates adopted an ambitious new strategic vision for the coming years.

“CITES member countries now need to step up their efforts to secure the resources needed to meet the goals they have set for themselves, especially the support needed by developing countries to manage wildlife trade at sustainable levels,” Broad said.

“Getting species listed on the convention is just the start. Underpinning the success of all decisions taken here is the need for strong political will and sound law enforcement.”


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