A two week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) closed here Thursday after deciding to strengthen wildlife management, combat illegal trafficking and update the trade rules for a wide range of plant and animal species. Decisions reached in Bangkok will stand until the next CITES meeting in 2007 in The Netherlands.
"The Bangkok conference has crafted solutions to meet the particular needs of many wildlife species that are either endangered or that could become so if traded unsustainably," said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.
CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers displays a gift from the host government of Thailand (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))
"These solutions seek to conserve the Earth's rich heritage of biological diversity while supporting the sustainable development of local communities and national economies," he said.
The African elephant was the subject of hot debate. The conference agreed to what Wijnstekers called "an ambitious action plan" for cracking down on unregulated domestic markets in elephant ivory. These markets serve as major outlets for poached ivory, particularly in African and Asian countries.
Under the plan, all African elephant range states will strengthen their legislation and their enforcement efforts, launch public awareness campaigns and report on progress by the end of March 2005.
The meeting "achieved real results for conservation," Dr. Susan Lieberman, head of the WWF delegation at CITES said Thursday as delegates began packing up their documents and heading for home.
"Elephants are a priority species on the CITES agenda and the African action plan on ivory trade is one of the most positive outcomes of this meeting," she said. "It is an historical result because this time, all African range states have agreed to address their domestic ivory markets."
African elephants are the targets of poachers who want their ivory tusks. (Photo credit unknown)
A request by Namibia for an annual quota for ivory from its national elephant population was not accepted. But Namibia did receive permission for the strictly controlled sale of traditional ivory carvings known as ekipas for tourist souvenirs. Ekipas are unique round or oval ivory artifacts carved only by the Owambo and Ovi-himba ethnic groups.
The United States supported the proposal while the European Union abstained from voting on it.
The European Union's abstention paved the way for Namibia to succeed in re-opening its ivory trade, conservationists said. The withdrawal of the 25 EU votes gave Namibia the numbers it needed to approve trade in worked ivory.
"The EU member states were unable to reach consensus and this was a deciding factor in the final vote," said Peter Pueschel, who led the CITES delegation from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The EU has consistently failed to consolidate its position on ivory trade, despite the fears of many African nations that any ivory trade will see an increase in elephant poaching."
In addition, in 2002 Namibia, Botswana and South Africa were each authorized to make a one-off sale of their existing ivory stocks, with the precondition that baseline data first be established on population and poaching levels throughout the elephant's range. The Bangkok meeting was informed that this data should be available in 2005, which could permit the sales to proceed by 2006.
Trophy hunting was a hot button issue among CITES delegates. Kenya withdrew its proposal to impose strict export regulation and quotas on African lion hunting trophies, on the understanding that there will be a number strategic workshops held in Africa next year to discuss lion conservation and in particular the impact of trophy hunting.
Leopard in South Africa (Photo courtesy South Africa Safari)
Namibia and South Africa won their proposals to increase quotas to export hunting trophies of leopards.
The meeting agreed that Namibia and South Africa may open up trophy hunting of the black rhino for the first time in many years, with an annual quota of five animals each. Swaziland may also open up strictly controlled hunting of its population of white rhino and export some live animals.
The intent of these decisions is to allow the range states to manage their rhino herds more effectively and to earn income for rhino conservation, the CITES Secretariat said.
The Namibian population of the Nile crocodile was transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II to facilitate trophy hunting. The Cuban population of the American crocodile was similarly downlisted to enable the government to supply eggs and hatchlings to ranching operations.
Margarita Clemente Munoz of Spain chairs the Plants Committee. (Photo courtesy ENB)
The conference decided to place ramin, a Southeast Asian tree that produces high-value timber, and agarwood, which produces agar oil, on Appendix II. By requiring the use of CITES export permits, these listings will improve the ability of the ramin and agarwood range states to manage tree stocks. It will also allow both exporters and importers to ensure that trade is sustainable and to tackle illegal trade.
The great white shark and the humphead wrasse - two fish species of great commercial value - were also added to CITES and can now only be traded with permits. Another marine species, the Irrawaddy dolphin, was transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I, which forbids all commercial trade.
"In recent years CITES has started to list commercially valuable fish species such as sturgeon, seahorses, and the basking and whale sharks. The addition of more listings this week suggests that governments believe CITES can contribute to the goal agreed at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development of restoring fishery stocks to sustainable levels by 2015," said Wijnstekers.
Masayuki Komatsu of the Japanese delegation. Japan opposed a proposal to uplist the Irrawaddy dolphin under Appendix I. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Japan's usual attempt to resume the hunting of minke whales was rejected at the meeting, but conservationists took note of increased support for whaling. "We are relieved that whales have survived another CITES meeting," said Humane Society International Campaign Director Michael Kennedy, "however support for Japan's pro-whaling stance increases each year at CITES - whales are by no means safe."
The conference gave more protection to five Asian turtles and tortoises and 11 species of Madagascar's leaf-tailed geckos by listing them on Appendix II. Many turtles from South, Southeast and East Asia are traded in significant quantities for regional food markets, Asian traditional medicines and international pet markets.
Trade rules were also strengthened for a number of medicinal plants, including hoodia, used in diet pills; the desert-living cistanche, a natural tonic; and the Chinese yew tree, which boasts cancer-fighting properties.
Dr. Susan Lieberman of the WWF contemplates progress at the close of the CITES meeting. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"We are pleased to see that CITES has fully endorsed regulation of trade in timber and fish species," said Lieberman of the WWF. "The overwhelming support given to proposals that promote sustainable trade is a clear sign that governments favor measures that will ultimately have a positive impact on livelihoods of rural, forest and coastal communities."
Decisions that will promote the practical implementation of the Convention were taken on economic incentives, guidelines for sustainable use, synergies with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the rules for personal and household effects, the budget and related issues.
Still other decisions seek to strengthen the conservation of threatened or endangered species already controlled by CITES, including the Saiga antelope, sharks, and the hawksbill turtle.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the Secretariat announced the 2004 quotas for caviar exports from the Caspian Sea. The five Caspian Sea states agreed to take stronger action on sturgeon conservation and illegal trade and harvesting.