Positive Environment News

Big mammals in focus at UN wildlife conference

Date: 12-Oct-04
Author: Ed Stoddard

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has already adopted proposals to regulate global trade in several economically valuable plant species and banned the commercial exploitation of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin.

Elephants will be in focus yesterday when African states formally present a continent-wide plan to crack down on flourishing domestic ivory markets viewed as a key threat to the survival of the planet's largest land mammal.

The plan commits every African country with a domestic ivory market to either strictly control the trade or shut it down. "There's still massive illegal trade in ivory all through Africa," said John Sellar, CITES senior enforcement officer. "It is so blatant and on such a scale that it must involve government corruption." Conservationists say some of the worst illegal markets are found in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Ethiopia - but much of the ivory comes from the tusks of elephants killed in other countries.

Since it banned global trade in ivory 15 years ago, CITES has approved only a few, one-off auctions by southern African states.

Namibia this week will seek permission for an annual export quota of 2,000 kgs of raw ivory and to trade in elephant leather and hair products for commercial purposes. South Africa has also proposed to trade in elephant leather.

Kenya is staunchly opposed to any further trade in ivory on the grounds that it will entice poachers to gun down its elephants to launder "dirty" ivory with licit supplies of the coveted commodity, used for decorative carvings and jewelry.

Some conservationists argue the ban has clearly not worked and a well-regulated, legal trade is needed.


Things will heat up on Tuesday when delegates are set to vote on a Japanese whale proposal.

Japan has proposed that three stocks of minke whales be shifted from a CITES list of most-endangered animals, in which international trade is banned, to a less-endangered category, where expanded commercial trade would be possible.

Such a move would not supersede an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on whaling but it would be a huge diplomatic victory for Japan and would put pressure on the IWC down the road.
CITES this week will also examine a proposal by Kenya to give added protection to the lion and one from tiny Swaziland to export live white rhinos to "acceptable destinations" and allow some trophy hunting of the hulking beasts.

Animal welfare groups are campaigning hard against the latter after the conference last week lifted a ban on hunting the much rarer black rhino in Namibia and South Africa.

Madagascar and Australia will ask the conference to regulate global trade in the ocean's most feared predator, the great white shark of "Jaws" fame.

Feathered fauna will also feature with a U.S. proposal to remove some of the safeguards on the bald eagle, which has soared back from the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states.

© Thomson Reuters 2004 All rights reserved

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