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CITES Convention ends, adopts measures to strengthen wildlife management
Kingsley Adegboye

Vanguard (Lagos)

19th October 2004

A two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has ended with decisions to strengthen wildlife management, combat illegal trafficking and update the trade rules for a wide range of plant and animal species.

"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 Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers of CITES, whose secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Programme.

"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 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 Mr. Wijnstekers.

The African elephant was the subject of extensive debate.

The conference agreed to 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 a number of African and Asian countries. Under the action plan, all African elephant range states will strengthen their legislation and their enforcement efforts, launch public awareness campaigns and report on progress by end-March 2005.

A request by Namibia for an annual quota for ivory from its national elephant population was not accepted. However, Namibia did receive permission for the strictly controlled sale of traditional ivory carvings known as ekipas as tourist souvenirs.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention was held from 3rd – 14th October. It was attended by some 1,200 participants from 154 governments and numerous observer organizations. COP 14 will be held in 2007 in The Netherlands.