As the final day of CITES dawned in Santiago, activists working with the Species Survival Network were nervous. We had done quite well overall in derailing some of the worst proposals offered to decrease the level of protection afforded the world's endangered plants and animals. But all of the original decisions made in committee had to brought to the floor of the plenary and codified. Proponents had the chance to amend their proposals and submit them again to the plenary, if they could get 1/3 of the 160 countries present to vote in favor of re-opening debate. We were concerned that Japan might try something clever to push through their plan to circumvent the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and allow the international trade in Brydes and Minke whales.
Instead, we ended on a role. The first decision brought up to be confirmed by the plenary was the rejection of the proposal from the former Soviet state of Georgia to uplist the population of dolphins in the Black Sea from Appendix II to Appendix I. This was designed specifically to ban the capture and international trade in this discrete population of bottlenose dolphins. They have been severely depleted over the last few years for use in the public display industry.
When offered in committee, the proposal did better than we expected but fell eight votes short of the required 2/3 majority. At that point, many of us starting lobbying hard, especially with those countries that either abstained or did not vote. Georgia amended its proposal to request, instead of an appendix I listing, an Appendix II listing with a zero quota, which would have the same effect. When brought up again in plenary, the proposal easily sailed through.
Then Japan indeed tried to bring back up their proposal to downlist Minke whales, now amended to include only one (instead of four) population of the whales. This effort failed.
Finally, the proposals for including the trade in whale sharks and basking sharks, the two biggest fish in the world, were brought up again, after failing to win approval in committee by only two votes each. For days we had heard spokesmen for the wise use movement pound the table about how protecting endangered species of plants and animals from international trade hurts poor people and poor communities. On these proposals, the same argument was used on our side.
The whale shark uplisting was proposed by the Philippines in an eloquent intervention that asked for international help to protect their fledgling eco-tourism businesses that have sprung up to assist tourists to swim with these huge but harmless sharks. Many little communities, some of which were once involved in whaling, now make a much better living from this "non-consumptive" use of whale sharks. After extensive debate, both the whale shark and the basking shark proposal carried the day, with much applause and cheering.
Overall, the result of the conference was far better than we had reason to hope for.
Of the major proposals to either increase or decrease (uplist or downlist) protection for species, the final tally was as follows. In the last column, I judge the desirability of the outcome from the species survival standpoint. Five dashes indicate that the decision was essentially neutral.
|Black Sea Dolphins||Institute zero quota||passed||won|
|South African Elephants||downlist||passed||lost*|
|Blue headed macaw||uplist||passed||won|
|Annam pond turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Arakan forest turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Yellow headed temple turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Sulawesi forest turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Yellow pond turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Malayan giant turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Keeled box turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Black marsh turtle||uplist||passed||won|
|Narrow-headed softshell turtles||uplist||passed||won|
|Giant softshell turtles||uplist||passed||won|
|New Zealand Geckos||uplist||defeated||lost|
|Orange-throated whiptail lizard||downlist||passed||lost|
|Sri Lankan rose butterfly||uplist||passed||won|
|Cayman turtle farm||downlist||defeated||won|
|Burrowing frogs (gottlebei)||uplist||passed||won|
|Monkey puzzle tree||uplist||passed||won|
|Cactus lacking chlorophyll||downlist||passed||-|
|Prickly pear cactus||downlist||withdrawn||-|
|Tonopah fishhook cactus||uplist||passed||won|
|Santa Barbara island dudleya||downlist||passed||-|
|Maquire's bitter root||downlist||passed||-|
|Lignum vitae (ironwood)||uplist||passed||won|
*The proposals to enable the sale of ivory from elephants in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa were dramatically amended before passage. They originally requested both a "one-off" sale of tons of ivory collected, plus an annual quota. The one-off sale was accepted only after a system for evaluating whether the sale is leading to increased poaching is in place (called MIKE- Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants). The annual quotas were deleted after heavy opposition.
+The vicuna proposals were not to allow the trade in the creatures themselves but for their wool, sheared from live "semi-captive" populations.
Certain positive trends that might be overlooked in this avalanche of data are the increased protection of several marine species (seahorses, basking shark and whale shark) and a valuable forest product (mahogany). These are very dramatic precedents. Over ninety percent (in value) of all endangered species sold internationally are either fish or trees. Heretofore, CITES has been extremely reluctant to include these species, partly because of the well organized fishing and timber interests.
The increased protection granted the Black Sea Dolphin was also significant. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that a proposal to inhibit the capture and trade in dolphins has been passed in an international forum. With the passage came the implicit understanding that the trade causes great suffering and early death among the victims.
The next Conference of Parties of CITES will be held in Thailand in two years. I would like to express my great appreciation for those involved in organizing the efforts of the Species Survival Network, that Animal Welfare Institute is part of. It was without a doubt the best organized effort I have ever seen. The result is that millions of individual plants and animals are better protected today than they were two weeks ago.