Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

CITES meeting a major disappointment for marine species

Posted: 7 April 2010. Updated: 25 February 2013


The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to CITES in Doha, hailed as a major opportunity for the future protection of endangered animals, has been a major disappointment for the protection of marine species.

The two-week conference that gathers 175 nations around every two years attracted environmentalists throughout the world to discuss the most pressing issues, particularly the protection of polar bears, sharks, corals, elephants ivory and bluefin tuna. Discussions mostly centred on the latter two, but unfortunately it seemed that commercial interests proved far more significant than conservation for the delegates.

As a member of the Species Survival Network (SSN), a coalition of key worldwide animal and environmental groups, ADI has supported the campaigns and lobbying activities of the animal groups in Doha, as in previous COPs.

Sadly, a bid to ban the international export of Atlantic bluefin tuna, proposed by Monaco amongst others, was sunk along with proposals on further protection for pink and red coral trade. The conference also “rejected a Proposal submitted by Palau and the United States to adopt landmark protection for three hammerhead shark species globally threatened by the shark fin trade,” the SSN reported. Not even the porbeagle shark escaped the long arm of the Asian Lobbying contingent, as delegates from the Far-East reopened the debate on its protection on the very last day and voted down regulations.

Intense pressure from Japan and China, where both species are considered a delicacy, was enough to discourage Parties to protect these animals, despite alarming figures showing a vast decrease of their population in the last few years. Japan’s vice-grip of influence over the small island states that depend on trade with the country proved central to the final decision – one which was regarded as “stunningly shortsighted” by the SSN press service.

The COP was not completely depressing though, as some species could claim a victory. The Conference rejected an American proposal to remove the bobcat (Lynx rufus) from protection under the CITES Appendices. Also, a Kenyan request to implement measures to protect rhinos, a species threatened again by Asian appetite for its horn, was approved.

The biggest victory for conservationists, however, was over trade of elephant ivory – something ADI has campaigned passionately over the years. Thankfully, on 22 March, SSN reported that both Tanzania and Zambia were defeated in their attempts to legalise the sale of elephant ivory. Tanzania tried to down-list the elephant products from Appendix I to Appendix II and to down-list with a sale of ivory. They were defeated in both propositions as they failed to gather a majority of 2/3rds of the total voting countries. A similar outcome occurred when Zambia tried to down-list its own population of elephants, with a final vote of 55 in favour, 36 against and 40 abstentions.

This was a clear message from the CITES Parties that the world does not support trading with ivory – a position ADI has held for many years, particularly as such steps have been shown to result in an increase in poaching, smuggling and organised crime, jeopardising the safety of elephants and encouraging illegal activity.

Nevertheless, organisations such as WWF have recently claimed that there has been a sharp increase in the demand of elephant ivory throughout the world. A similar conclusion was drawn by the ETIS report.

Once again, we have the deeply disturbing sight of the outcome of any CITES proposal being reliant upon the lobbying power of the individual nations and those involved in the trade. While continued protection for elephants is to be welcomed, it is discouraging to note that such successes only come about when it is the poorer, less influential countries such as Zambia and Tanzania who will be affected - in other words, countries who cannot field a well funded lobbying team, and who lack political leverage. Those with a vested interest such as businesses in Japan, who are not ashamed to hold to ransom small island states reliant on them for trade, still have the upper hand when it comes to decisions between commerce and conservation – much to the detriment of the already struggling aquatic populations, the fate of whom seems in ever more dire straits.

ADI welcomes the decision of the COP to encourage further elephant protection through the international scope of CITES. The alarming facts and figures reported by ETIS and the evidence of criminal networks underlying the trade in ivory are reason enough to believe that the decision taken is in the right path for the conservation of this noble creature.

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