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UN-backed body to discuss new measures to protect endangered species

UN-backed body to discuss new measures to protect endangered species

A fish and a small primate whose survival is threatened by their use in traditional medicine, pink coral, rosewood and the perennial issue of whether there should be any easing of the ban on ivory are high on the agenda of this year’s meeting of the United Nations-backed body overseeing trade in endangered species.

They figure among some 40 new government proposals for amending wildlife trade rules to be decided on at the next triennial conference of the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in The Hague, Netherlands, from 3 to 15 June.

With biological diversity facing a host of threats ranging from habitat destruction to climate change to unrestrained commercial harvesting for trade, many of the proposals reflect growing international concern at the accelerating destruction of the world’s marine and forest resources through over-fishing and excessive logging, CITES said in a news release today.

Administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), CITES seeks to reward people engaged in sustainable trade while protecting the world’s biological diversity by ensuring that the international trade in wildlife is carefully managed.

New rules proposed by Germany on behalf of the European Community (EC), the United States, Kenya and other CITES members include:

  • A permit system and sustainable fishery management programme for the spiny dogfish, a small shark that was once abundant in temperate waters but is now overexploited for its meat, which is highly valued in Europe, often featuring in British fish and chips shops.
  • Strict control for trade in pink coral, the most valuable of all precious corals, which has been fished for over 5,000 years and used for jewellery and other decorative items but has suffered a dramatic decline due over-harvesting and the destruction of entire colonies by bottom trawling and dredges.
  • A ban on all international commercial trade in sawfishes, which have declined by over 90 per cent, since their rostral saws, teeth, fins and other parts bring high prices for use in traditional medicine and as curios, while live specimens are sought for aquaria.
  • A similar ban on two species of slow loris, a small, nocturnal primate native to South and Southeast Asia threatened by high and growing demand in Asia for traditional medicines and pets.
  • Trade permits for three species of rosewood which grow only in the swamp forests of southern Belize and nearby regions of Guatemala and Mexico and are threatened by increasing deforestation and their use for musical instruments.
  • Similar permits for the cedar of Central and South America, once a common tree valued locally for its resistance to rotting and insects and internationally as a precious wood, which has suffered from extensive deforestation.

On ivory from the African elephant, the long-running debate pits the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities with concerns that such sales may encourage poaching. CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989 but in 1997, recognizing that some African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale to Japan totalling 50 tonnes.

In 2002, it agreed in principle to allow a second sale from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. But the sales have not gone forward because a monitoring programme to establish comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels is not yet operational.

Botswana and Namibia are jointly proposing easing the conditions for permitting future sales, while Kenya and Mali are calling for a trade ban in raw or worked ivory from all range States for 20 years, arguing that allowing any trade will increase poaching.

The CITES Secretariat believes that all this year’s elephant proposals contain technical problems and a meeting of the African range States is scheduled to take place in advance of the conference.