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Ivory ban in the bag, UN wildlife body charts its future

 

by Marlowe HoodFri Jun 15, 2:12 PM ET

The UN body regulating trade in threatened species ratified decisions Friday protecting elephants, eels, and at least one species of shark, as it sought to expand its role in global wildlife management.

In a last-minute about-turn, however, it reversed a decision made two days earlier and removed restrictions on the international trade in coral species severely depleted by commercial exploitation.

“The science was clear on this issue and not debated. This is a political decision,” said Elizabeth Meely of Sea Web, a marine conservation group.

Wrapping up business before reconvening in 2010, the 171-nation Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species laid out a “strategic vision” that it hopes will give it greater clout in regulating the multi-billion dollar exploitation of valuable woods and marine life.

“We have always been kept away from commercial marine and timber species, but that is disappearing,” said CITES secretary general Willem Wijnstekers.

CITES also locked in a landmark nine-year ban on international trade in ivory which seeks to stem a surge in poaching that has killed up to 20,000 elephants per year.

The ban will go into effect after the one-off sale to Japan, and — pending CITES approval — China, of elephant tusks held by four southern African nations.

The agreement, reached after weeks of sometimes fierce debate among African nations, breaks an 18-year deadlock and was hailed by Wijnstekers as “a great step forward for wildlife conservation.”

The UN body, set up in 1973 to ensure that global trade does not threaten species survival, also sent a strong message to China on tigers.

A resolution originally drafted by Beijing but amended during debate turned into a rebuke against the practice of large-scale tiger farming — unique to China — and a warning against lifting a 14-year ban on domestic trade in tiger parts.

China came into the conference saying it was evaluating petitions from domestic businesses to allow in-country sale of tiger-bone tonics.

CITES can ban international wildlife commerce, but is powerless to impose rules on commerce within a given country.

“Tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives,” said the final resolution, which was adopted by consensus after China failed in an attempt to change the wording.

There are twice as many of the big cats on Chinese farms — some 5,000 — as in the wild worldwide, experts say.

In all, dozens of measures were adopted protected fauna and flora ranging from sea cucumbers to cacti to coral.

CITES placed Asias slow loris, prized in Japan as a pet, on its Appendix I, which already outlaws cross-border trade for some 500 animals, including big Asian cats, elephants, sea turtles.

It also voted down a US bid to lift protection of bobcats, and blocked what conservationists decried as a back-door manoeuvre by Japan to reopen commercial whaling.

But the results of CITES efforts to expand its turf into species subjected to large-scale commercial exploitation were mixed.

“The real problems for biological diversity around the world are in the forests and in the oceans,” said German delegate Jochen Flasbarth. “But as soon as you interfere in these regions you are confronted with huge economic interests.”

Historically, CITES has focused mostly on fauna and flora — especially “big charismatic animals,” in the words of its legal officer Juan Carlos Vasquez — that are not the object of commercial harvesting.

The 200-million-euro business in European eels will now have to adjust to sharp restrictions on trade in the species, eaten to the edge of extinction in Europe and East Asia.

Proposals to protect two species of shark, however, did not pass the two-thirds muster required. The porbeagle shark and the spiny dogfish — prized for their fins by Chinese gourmets, and their meat by fish-and-chip lovers — remained on the hook after tight votes.

A measure to protect of South American cedar, proposed by the European Union, was taken off the table under pressure from producer nations before the conference even opened.

Attempts to shield rosewood and a cedar species from unregulated harvesting also failed.

 

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