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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 23:29 GMT
Trade meeting to protect mahogany
Mahogany logs, PA
Illegal mahogany logs in Brazil
Delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) have voted to restrict the trade in bigleaf mahogany, seahorses and more than 20 species of turtles.

It has been a great day for mahogany

Cliona O'Brien, WWF
The committee stages of the conference, held in Santiago in Chile, had earlier failed to support moves to give better protection to whale and basking sharks.

The United Nations meeting has also agreed to allow some African countries to sell stockpiles of elephant tusks, easing a 13-year-old ban on the ivory trade.

All the Cites decisions will be reviewed before the conference closes at the end of the week and could conceivably be reversed.

Nonetheless, the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic said that it was pleased with the Cites decisions.

"The mahogany decision in particular marks a real watershed for Cites," Traffic South America spokeswoman Ximena Buitron said in a statement.

She added that the network hoped the decision would benefit sustainable management of mahogany in key locations such as Brazil, Peru and the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Mesoamerica.

Threatened tree species

As things stand, the international trade in tropical hardwood will be restricted by listing bigleaf mahogany as a threatened species.

It means remaining mahogany reserves in the Amazon should now receive more protection from illegal loggers.

The numbers of trees have been falling rapidly as the production for furniture increases around the world.

Over the past 10 years deforestation has seen growth areas of mahogany fall by 60% in Central America and 30% in South America.

Cliona O'Brien, WWF wildlife trade policy officer, said: "It has been a great day for mahogany. Today is a victory not only for bigleaf mahogany, but for tropical forests in general."

WWF believes the listing of bigleaf mahogany in the Cites threatened species list will help in the fight against illegal trade and smuggling.

The environmental group said it would also offer better guarantees to importers and consumers that the mahogany timber they buy is not from illegal sources.

Turtle trade

Twenty-six species of turtles, mainly from Asia, will now also be protected under international law.

Several species are already listed as endangered and trade in them banned, but conservationists say that all the species are subject to a booming trade, mainly into China, and that the new legislation may come too late.

There are 23 turtle species in Vietnam alone.

Senior officials from Vietnam's Cites management authority blame the loss of habitat for the serious decline in turtle numbers.

They say enforcing laws which ban trade in endangered species and better public education will stop hunting. But the high prices turtles are fetching in restaurants across Vietnam and into China are making the catch hard to resist.

Some sources estimate the trade in Vietnamese turtles is worth about $5m a year.

Eating turtle, believed by Vietnamese men to be good for their sexual performance, has become a fashionable symbol of wealth among the growing urban population.

Aquarium pets

The trade in seahorses will not be prohibited but will now be more closely monitored to ensure that it does not pose a threat to populations.

There is high global demand for the animals, which are sold as aquarium pets, mainly in the US and Europe, or dried and used in traditional Asian Medicine.

About 105 countries have seahorses in their waters and 69 are involved in trade. All 32 species of seahorse will come under the monitoring programme.

"[Seahorses] reach values that are much, much higher than the price of silver, approaching the price of gold per kilo," said Amanda Vincent, a marine scientist and director of Project Seahorse, a backer of the proposal at the Cites meeting.

"The parties must now ensure their trade is not detrimental to wild populations... This is a very big issue and is going to raise enormous challenges for the parties," Vincent said.

New Zealand geckos and Sri Lanka's pink butterflies failed to receive protected status at the meeting.

See also:

13 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
09 Nov 02 | Americas
13 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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