By Adam M. Roberts and Ben White
As the city's stray dogs lazed in the sun
near a busy street outside the Convention Center, delegates from more than
150 nations debated the fate of dozens of threatened and endangered species
during the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United
Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES) this past November in Santiago, Chile.
The basking shark,
second largest fish (pictured here
feeding), is now protected
After two grueling weeks meeting with
government representatives, talking to the media, and distributing
information, countless animals and plants now face a more secure future.
CITES Parties once again rejected Japan's attempt to resume a legal
international trade in minke and Bryde's whales. They also approved
protection for two shark species, (whale shark and basking shark), seahorses,
the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, a number of freshwater turtles and
tortoises and various reptiles in Madagascar, the yellow-naped and
yellow-headed parrots, the blue-headed macaw, mahogany, and the monkey puzzle
tree. A number of victories were particularly hard-won.
Surely the participants in the CITES process
have tired of Japan's repeated attempts to circumvent the International
Whaling Commission, which is the competent international body for making
decisions related to the trade in whale parts and products. The proposals to
resume trade in minke and Bryde's whales, for instance, painfully brought
back year after year, garner less support with each submission, despite
obdurate pressure by the Japanese delegation and the pro-whaling lobby.
Meanwhile, accusations continue to fly about
Japan using foreign aid to "buy" the votes of small island nations in the
Caribbean. The outspoken, often comical interventions in support of Japan by
the representative of Antigua and Barbuda did little to dispel these rumors.
Japan, having been beaten down and defeated again, should abandon its cruel
pursuit of a return to the miserable days of commercial whaling once and for
CITES Parties also wisely voted against the
United Kingdom's proposal to allow the trade in products of the highly
endangered green sea turtle from a farm in the Cayman Islands. Questions
swirled around the meeting as to the legality of some of the turtles in the
farm-it is highly probable that some of the founder stock, the animals used
in the initial breeding program, were acquired illegally. There are also
serious welfare implications for the cruelly-housed animals at the facility.
Dr. Rob Atkinson, Head of the Wildlife Department of the Royal Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said, "In my opinion, the Cayman Turtle
Farm fails to match the welfare standards that would be required in the UK.
42.6% of turtle hatchlings from the farm are dead within the first 18 months,
a further 17.1% die within 42 months."
The ivory trade threatens forest elephants
such as this subadult bull in
National Park, Central African Republic. Melissa Groo
For some species, victory was actually
snatched from the jaws of defeat. Although the four good proposals to offer
international protection to the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, both sharks,
and mahogany were narrowly defeated in Committee, vigorous campaigning led to
a reopening of the discussion on these issues in the full Plenary session
during the second week of the Conference. Whale sharks and basking sharks
need international protection from the trade in their fins, meat, and oils;
the dolphins in question are the first marine mammals protected by CITES from
live capture for the public display industry; mahogany is the first
commercially traded tropical timber species to be protected. We pursued those
countries that either abstained from voting or were absent from these
important votes, and, as a result, each of these proposals was ultimately
approved in turn in Plenary. UK Minister Elliot Morley deserves special
commendation for his leadership on the basking shark proposal, and the
delegation from the former Soviet state of Georgia worked diligently to
secure this new protection for the bottlenose dolphin.
The Georgians also helped shepherd through a
modest but important victory for the world's bears, cruelly slaughtered for
their gallbladders and bile. It was suggested by the CITES Secretariat that
an important resolution on Conservation of and Trade in Bears, which was
passed unanimously in 1997, should be gutted. Not only did we succeed in
maintaining the resolution language but we also got additional decisions
approved at this meeting calling on certain countries to take demonstrable
actions to eliminate the illegal international trade in bear parts.
Of course, not every decision benefited
species in need. The Parties failed to act in a measurable way to protect the
dwindling global stock of Patagonian toothfish, sold in restaurants in the
U.S. and elsewhere as Chilean Sea Bass. Vicuna, found in South America, were
downlisted from Appendix I to Appendix II to allow for increased and easier
international trade in vicuna cloth and vicuna wool products from Chile,
Bolivia, and Argentina, despite the fact that these animals are still poached
in the wild for their wool and meat.
Clearly, the biggest disappointment was on
the elephant ivory trade and the United States' role in the elephant debate,
which was dominated by contentious, often vitriolic verbal sparring. In the
end, Zimbabwe and Zambia were defeated in their attempts to trade ivory
legally. Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa lost their effort to trade in
ivory annually but were given tentative approval to sell off their ivory
stockpiles if CITES, after May 2004, is satisfied that certain conditions
have been met.
AWI was terribly disappointed in the United
States delegation's impotent stand on the ivory issue. The U.S. delegation,
headed by Judge Craig Manson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tried to
broker a deal to allow the sale of stockpiled ivory under certain conditions
while removing the request to sell additional ivory on an annual basis. They
didn't even share their amendment language with the African proponent
countries before offering it on the floor! Why the U.S. would offer a
compromise allowing the trade in ivory instead of standing firm in support of
America's historic opposition to such a deadly trade is mystifying and
unjustifiable. Our own government, despite receiving more than 10,000 emails
in the few days leading up to the vote, actually voted in favor of the
proposals by Namibia and South Africa to resume ivory trade. This is also
despite strong letters from the United States House of Representatives and
Senate urging opposition to the international commercial ivory trade. Back in
October, one-fifth of the U.S. Senate wrote to Mr. Manson urging such
opposition, noting, "The United States must not stand idly by and watch as
elephant carcasses once again unceremoniously litter the African
savannah-their tusks carved off with chain-saws to satisfy global greed."
AWI had asked the U.S. delegation for its
position on the ivory trade proposals for weeks, but the U.S. was more
tight-lipped and secretive than ever-totally taking itself out of the
equation and marginalizing itself throughout the discussion during the
meeting over the previous week. The United States portrays itself as a global
conservation leader, yet the delegation clearly acted irresponsibly during
this CITES meeting.
There is a very real fear that the decision
on elephants will spur increased elephant poaching in Asia and Africa and
provide an easy opportunity to launder illegal ivory. Elephant poachers and
ivory profiteers will only see the headline that reads: "CITES approves ivory
sales from Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa," while missing the fine print
that the sale is not unconditional.
AWI will continue to work to stop the
overexploitation of threatened and endangered species for international
commercial trade, especially in its role as a vital part of the Species
Survival Network, a global coalition working to ensure strict enforcement of
CITES. The next CITES meeting takes place in Thailand, tentatively scheduled
for late 2004.
For background on the issues discussed at
the meeting, please see the previous two issues of the Quarterly, both of
which are available on our website, click here. You can also read daily reports
from Santiago, please click here and get a full overview of CITES at