CITES conference on wildlife trade considers new rules for high-value species
Bangkok agenda also features the African elephant, minke whale and bald eagle, plus turtles, rhinoceroses and medicinal plants
7 September 2004, Bangkok/Geneva – The 166 member governments of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will meet in Bangkok from 2 – 14 October to update the trade rules governing some of the world’s most charismatic, exploited and economically valuable wildlife species.
The conference will decide on some 50 proposals for improving the conservation and sustainable use of the African elephant, the minke whale, the great white shark, the ramin timber tree, the Chinese yew and other medicinal plants, the yellow-crested cockatoo and the lilac-crowned parrot, five Asian turtles, the white rhinoceros, the Nile and American crocodiles, the European date mussel and many other species.
“The CITES conferences are major environmental events because they produce enforceable decisions and practical actions for conserving wild nature and the Earth’s biological diversity,” said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of the United Nations Environment Programme, which administers the CITES Secretariat.
“By promoting the science-based management of wildlife as a valuable natural resource, CITES also supports the UN’s Millennium Development goals of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015,” he added.
Long known as the forum where critical decisions are taken about such high-profile issues as the ivory trade and whaling, CITES is increasingly the focus of efforts to protect fish and timber species that are traded globally in profitable commodity markets.
“Reversing today’s massive destruction of the world’s oceans and forests will require governments to use the full range of policies and tools available to them. It is increasingly recognized that the CITES system for regulating trade through a system of permits and quotas is effective and can make an important contribution,” said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.
This year’s most commercially significant proposals include recommendations to add the humphead wrasse, a large reef fish from the Indian and Pacific oceans, and the great white shark, perhaps best known as the star of the “Jaws” film, to an internationally agreed list of species requiring trade permits. A major step towards using the CITES trade rules for protecting valuable fish species was taken in 2002 when the whale shark – the world’s largest fish – and the basking shark were added to this list.
Similar CITES rules have also been introduced recently to address the unsustainable global trade in timber and tree products. All shipments of Latin America’s bigleaf mahogany have required CITES export permits since November 2003. Now Indonesia is proposing tighter controls for trade in ramin, one of Southeast Asia’s highest earning export timbers, and agarwood trees, which contain the valuable “agar” oil used for making incense, perfumes and medicines.
Another group of species threatened by traditional and newly emerging commercial markets are medicinal plants, including southern Africa’s hoodia and Asia’s Chinese yew and desert-living cistanche; proposals on the table call for strengthening conservation measures for all three groups of species. Several proposals also seek to conserve Asian turtles and tortoises that are being over-exploited for traditional food markets and the international pet trade.
Still other proposals seek to ease the rules on trade in some of the large, beautiful and exotic animals that have been icons of the conservation movement since the 1960s and 1970s. The minke whale and the African elephant are returning to the CITES agenda, and rhinoceroses, bald eagles and crocodiles feature as well. The proponents argue that certain populations of these species have recovered sufficiently to permit some tightly controlled trade.
Note to journalists: Each proposal is described in more detail starting on page 6 below. For more information, contact Juan-Carlos Vasquez at +41-22-917-8156 (office) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528 (cell), +41-22-917-8242 (office), or email@example.com. See also www.cites.org.