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Elephant Conservation Move Rejected by CITES Delegates

BANGKOK, Thailand,  October 11, 2004 (ENS)

Governments failed to adopt a resolution to put an end to the illegal ivory trade and improve control of domestic ivory markets today at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).


Elephant tusks confiscated from poachers shown with rhino horns and guns (Photo by Martin Harvey © WWF-Canon)
The Kenyan bid to have any new ivory stockpile sales put on hold for a period of six years, which was backed by many African nations, was rejected.

Peter Pueschel, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare CITES delegation expressed the disappointment of conservationists, saying, "Those who voted against this proposal have voted against elephants. In a few years time some elephant populations, particularly in Central and West Africa may disappear forever.

"The proposal was absolutely vital to give all nations time to be more successful in their efforts to stop poaching and to address other enforcement issues to bring an end to the illegal trade in ivory."

A halt to international trade in Irrawaddy dolphins was agreed by governments Friday at the ongoing meeting in Bangkok. The delegates from 166 countries also agreed in committee to extend protection to medicinal plants including five species of yew trees, used in anti-cancer medicines.

The United States and China worked in concert on the dolphin and yew protection proposals. U.S. delegation head Craig Manson, who serves as assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks sought the support of China in increasing international trade restrictions for the Irrawaddy dolphin and other Asian species during meetings with Zhao Xuemin, vice administrator of China's State Forestry Administration.


Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson heads the U.S. delegation to the CITES meeting. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))
Manson and Zhao discussed cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service and their counterpart agencies in China as well as on conservation and enforcement of wildlife laws on a regional and global basis, the U.S. State Department said.

"The United States and China have a long history of cooperation in wildlife management on issues such as panda conservation; large lake fishery habitat restoration; CITES implementation, inspection, and enforcement; and wetlands restoration," said Manson. "We had a positive discussion on how to build on this cooperation in the future."

Manson said the the United States supported the proposal by Thailand to place the Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris, on Appendix I, which allows no commercial trade, based on an International Whaling Commission report that densities of the dolphin appear to be low in most areas and several populations are believed to be seriously depleted.

The critically endangered dolphin species is found in shallow near shore tropical and subtropical waters in India, Bangladesh, South East Asia and Australia. It is demand by live dolphin shows for its ability to perform tricks such as pulling its body out of the water.

The Humane Society International says large number of new dolphinaria are opening up in South East Asia, and conservationists are concerned the removal of even very low numbers of animals for captivity could precipitate the extinction of local populations.


Wichar Thitiprasert of Thailand at the CITES meeting. Thailand introduced the proposal to upgrade protection for the Irrawaddy dolphin. (Photo courtesy ENB)

The Australian proposal to enhance the conservation of Patagonian toothfish, known on North American menus as Chilean sea bass, did not meet with the delegates approval.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said CITES can and should play a role in the conservation of toothfish, and Peru supported the Australian proposal, but the Russian Federation and others successfully opposed the toothfish proposal.

Delegates approved a joint proposal by the United States and Indonesia to include the Roti snake-necked turtle, Chelodina mccordi, in Appendix II. This freshwater turtle is found only in a small part of the tiny island of Roti, off the southwestern tip of Timor.

Now considered critically endangered to nearly extinct in the wild, the species was collected so intensively for the global pet trade that it went from description to near-extinction in five years. By 2000, it was considered commercially extinct by Indonesian traders who could no longer acquire animals.


Hawksbill turtles have vanished from the world's oceans over the past 100 years. (Photo courtesy UNEP-WCMC)
The endangered hawksbill sea turtle did not receive any listing for CITES protection at this meeting, but delegates agreed to encourage collaboration among Caribbean countries on its conservation before the next CITES meeting in 2006.

At least one meeting of the wider Caribbean region on the hawksbill turtle is to take place during the next two years. In addition, the CITES Secretariat will compile reports received from Caribbean countries on progress of the regional conservation strategy and national management plans and present a written summary at the next CITES meeting.

Meanwhile, countries where the hawksbill turtle is found are asked to adopt and implement standard protocols for monitoring populations of nesting and foraging hawksbill turtles and monitor legal harvests, by-catch in other fisheries, and illegal take.

Countries have been asked to reduce illegal catch and trade in hawksbill turtles and parts by taking control of stockpiles - identifying, marking, registering and securing the turtle parts.

All species of sea turtles are considered to be endangered, but the only sea turtle listed for protection by CITES is the Leatherback turtle, which is listed on Appendix I, so no commercial trade is permitted.

Trade Limited on Cactus in Demand as Diet Drug

An African cactus sought by pharmaceutical companies as a diet drug will be listed on Appendix II, which allows commercial trade only if it is strictly regulated through the use of export permits.


The Hoodia gordonii cactus suppresses the appetite and is in demand as a diet drug. (Photo credit unknown)
The hoodia cactus, Hoodia gordonii, has traditionally been collected by the San people and used as an appetite suppressant and thirst quencher on journeys across difficult terrain, and as a cure for severe abdominal cramps, indigestion, tuberculosis, hypertension and diabetes.

But now harvesting for commercial purposes is becoming a large potential threat, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa said in their protection proposal.

Since the isolation of the active ingredient in Hoodia gordonii and the extensive press coverage that projected huge financial benefits to be derived from exploiting this species, there has been an increasing interest in the harvest of Hoodia species and some exporters are taking large quantities.

Botswana has allowed some harvesting for export under a permit and inspection by officers from the Agricultural Resources Board. One exporter reported exporting 2,500 kilograms (2.5 tons) of hoodia per month.

Although Hoodia gordonii is abundant and widespread, collectors of plant material cannot always tell the different species apart, the three countries said, and collecting from the wild is likely to impact a number of Hoodia species. Harvesting requires cutting off the above ground parts of the plant and it is easy to wipe out small populations.

Several types of hoodia have been impacted by road construction, mining and overgrazing that has disturbed their habitat.

Protection Extended to Five Species of Yews

The delegates also approved a proposal by the United States and China to upgrade the protection for the Himalayan yew, Taxus wallichiana, a conifer that supplies needles and twigs used in making the popular chemotherapy drug Taxol.

Taxus wallichiana was listed on Appendix II in 1994, but Parties agreed not to regulate its chemical derivatives. As a result, the current regulation fails to capture and control the majority of trade in this species - trade in its chemical extracts.

To close this loophole, the delegates decided to include all parts and chemical derivatives of the T. wallichiana plant, except seeds and pollen, except for finished pharmaceutical products.

In addition, delegates decided to list four other yew species - Taxus chinensis, T. cuspidata, T. fuana, and T. sumatrana - on Appendix II, also on a proposal by the United States and China. The only exception to the trade restriction was made for artificially propagated horticultural species.

The bark, needles, twigs, and roots of Taxus species are the source of taxanes, a group of chemical compounds, one of which, paclitaxel, is successfully used for the treatment of certain cancers, such as breast cancer.

Since the 1990s, there has been "a phenomenal demand by pharmaceutical companies" for paclitaxel and other taxane compounds extracted from Taxus, CITES says.


Taxus chinensis cultivated plum yew at Peckerwood Gardens, Waller County, Texas (Photo by Hugh Wilson courtesy TAMU Herbarium, Texas A&M University)
But yew species are extremely slow growing and long lived. It can take species 100 years or more to attain any appreciable size. They grow in only in eastern Asia and Asia Minor, and southeast Russia.

All species of Taxus are listed as endangered in the "China Plant Red Data Book: Rare and Endangered Plants."

CITES says all Taxus species native to China have "declined drastically" in northwestern Yunnan Province and have been eliminated in parts of three counties due to mass exploitation and the felling of trees. In 2001, scientists estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 metric tons of bark and 2,000 metric tons of leaves have been harvested in Yunnan Province in recent years.

Based on the current levels of exploitation, populations of Asian Taxus species will continue to decline, and therefore, their long-term viability may be affected. As populations become smaller and fragmented due to destructive harvest practices, the chance of recolonization is reduced and the length of time for recolonization is greatly extended.

CITES says that the loss of individual trees and fragmentation of populations "may cause genetic erosion in species and potentially affect their long-term survival."

Today, government delegates are set to vote on whether to protect the great white shark from unsustainable trade in its jaws, teeth and fins. The overnments of Australia and Madagascar have jointly proposed the great white shark for listing on Appendix II.

Copyright © Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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