Friday, March 1, 2013

Global Wildlife Conservation Experts speak out in advance of CITES

On 3 March 2013, more than a thousand delegates will convene in Bangkok, Thailand to determine the fate of scores of animal and plant species at risk of over-exploitation due to international trade. Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will consider proposals affecting the global protection of African elephants, Asian big cats, cheetah, rhinos, sharks, Asian turtles and a variety of plant and tree species.

The Species Survival Network (SSN), a global coalition of nearly 100 organizations from more than 30 countries, will be present at the CITES meeting to urge delegates to act with precaution when considering each proposal on the agenda.

SSN issue experts will present the Network’s coordinated positions on some of the most high-profile topics at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand from 1900-2100h on 28 February.

Speakers include:

Shelley Waterland (UK) – Elephants

Where have all the elephants gone? With the conservation world still reeling from the news that Gabon has lost 11,000 elephants from a single area, up to 10,000 elephants a year are being killed in Tanzania; and Kenya registered the highest level of poaching for 2 decades in 2012, there is no doubt that elephants and the future legalization of ivory trading will be hot topics at the upcoming CITES meeting. Poaching of elephants for their tusks is considered by many experts to be spiraling out of control, with whole families being gunned down in countries across the African Continent. In the face of such an overwhelming crisis, it seems extraordinary to many that in Bangkok this March CITES Parties will debate how to establish a “decision-making mechanism” for a future legal trade in elephant ivory. SSN believes that past experimental one-off sales of ivory (1999 and 2008) and sanctioned by the majority of CITES parties, have contributed to the crisis we are facing today, and that all ivory trade should be banned.

“The international community needs to stop talking about the crisis and start taking effective action,” said Shelley Waterland of the Born Free Foundation. “Millions of dollars are needed if rangers and wardens are to be able to protect elephants across their range. All 38 of the African elephant range States have agreed the African Elephant Action Plan, a blueprint that they believe will save elephants - if only they have the funds to implement it. My biggest hope for this CITES meeting is that significant pledges of support will be forthcoming so that lives - elephant and human - can be saved and the criminals behind the bloody ivory trade can be brought to book.”

Mark Jones (UK) – Rhinos

2012 saw the highest level of rhino poaching for many years, with 668 rhinos reported to have been killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa alone to supply the demand for horns in East and South East Asia. In spite of significant efforts to improve protection and enforcement in range states, the crisis shows no sign of abating with close to 100 rhinos killed already in South Africa this year (by mid-February). “The rhino poaching crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing CITES,” said Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International/UK and co-chair of the Species Survival Network Rhino Working Group. “Humane Society International calls on CITES parties to do everything possible to restrict the trade in rhino horn, address the growing demand in Asia, and protect rhinos on the ground before we lose these magnificent creatures forever.”

Dr. Ron Orenstein (Canada) – Asian Turtles

No part of world has more freshwater turtle species than Southeast Asia, and nowhere else are so many in serious danger. Massive overcollecting for food and traditional medicine markets, and for the pet trade, has reduced some species to a handful of individuals. Even the few that are still relatively common are being voraciously collected almost everywhere they can be found. CITES already protects some of the rarest Asian turtles, but that is not good enough. Collectors follow a "boom-and-bust" cycle, exploiting one population until it is either exhausted, or until regulations get in their way, before moving on to the next. As we can't predict what the poachers' next target will be, CITES will only be really effective for Asian turtles when as many species are listed as possible. "If CITES parties do not act at this meeting," said Ronald Orenstein, Ph.D., author of Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History (Firefly Books, 2012), "some Asian turtles may be extinct before there is another chance. We need to protect these turtles now, and Bangkok is the right place to make the commitment."

Rebecca Regenry (US) – Sharks

Ten species of sharks and rays have been proposed for CITES Appendix II listing which would regulate international trade in these species in order to ensure it does not detrimental to the survival of the species. They are oceanic whitetip shark, submitted by Brazil, Colombia, and the United States; scalloped, great and smooth hammerhead sharks, submitted by Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico; porbeagle shark, submitted by Brazil, Comoros, Croatia, the European Union, and Egypt; giant and reef manta rays, submitted by Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador; ocellate river stingray, submitted by Colombia; and rosette and ceja river stingrays, submitted by Colombia and Ecuador. Australia is also proposing to uplist the freshwater sawfish from Appendix I to Appendix II which would ban international trade in this species.

“Adoption of the proposals for sharks and rays will result in better enforcement and a reduction in shark finning and manta ray gilling. Both practices involve cutting off the most valuable parts of the species and throwing the mutilated animal back in to the ocean,” said Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife, Humane Society International. “Finning and gilling are inhumane and harmful to small-scale, local fisheries and local tourism, as the practices are mostly carried out by large foreign fishing fleets depleting coastal waters of sharks and rays.”

Dr. Teresa Telecky (US)—Polar Bears

Polar bears are disappearing because the warming arctic is melting away their icy home. Two-thirds of polar bears will be gone by mid-century. The bears need ice to hunt and without it, they are starving. Despite this dire situation, Canada allows 400 polar bears to be hunted every year to supply the international commercial trade in polar bear skin rugs and other parts. To protect polar bears from such trade, the United States has proposed to transfer the species from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, which would ban international commercial trade in the species. The Russian Federation, another of the five polar bear range States, supports the proposal. “Polar bears are being driven to extinction by climate change and must be protected from other threats such as international commercial trade,” said Teresa Telecky, Ph.D., chair of the Polar Bear Coalition and director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “Humane Society International urges CITES parties to give polar bears the help they so desperately need by voting to transfer the species to Appendix I.”

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Rotman