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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 October, 2004, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Summit boosts sea life protection
Humphead wrasse, WWF
The conference showed a growing focus on marine life
The 13th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) has closed in Bangkok.

The conference showed a growing focus on marine life, which is controversial with countries like Japan that have large fishing industries.

Delegates agreed to grant greater protection to great white sharks, while Japan's proposal to commercially exploit minke whales was rejected.

A total of 50 proposals were debated during this year's two-week meeting.

Cites, which has signatories from 166 member states, meets once every couple of years to impose or lift trade restrictions on animals and plants.

It was among the best conferences of parties we have ever had
Willem Wijnstekers, Cites secretary general
After a heated debate, signatories voted down a proposal by Namibia to sell two tonnes of ivory a year, as African nations agreed on a continent-wide crackdown on illegal domestic ivory markets.

However, Namibia did get permission for local communities to sell traditional ivory carvings, after the EU withdrew its 25 votes because it could not reach a consensus.

"This is exactly what we feared might happen," said Jenny Hawley, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw). "The EU parties must all vote together at Cites, and must abstain if they cannot reach consensus - which often happens on controversial issues.

"This led to the loss of 25 crucial votes - and a disaster for elephants."

Marine life

Overall, however, many conservationists were pleased with the outcome of this year's Cites conference.

One very notable announcement during the meeting came from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which pledged for the first time to share intelligence, tighten borders and review weak laws to crack down on smuggling in the region.

Appendix I: controls species whose existence is so threatened that trade is banned. Covers some 1,000 plants and animals, eg great apes
Appendix II: Allows controlled trade, under a system of permits. Covers 4,100 animal species and 28,000 plants
Appendix III: Contains 290 species that are protected in at least one country.
And controls were placed on sales of the humphead wrasse, a giant coral reef fish under threat from the live aquarium industry and from exploitation for food.

Export quotas of caviar were also slashed.

As well as for animals, delegates backed greater controls for plant species, including the hardwood ramin which has seen forests devastated from rampant commercial logging, notably in Malaysia and Indonesia.

"It was among the best conferences of parties we have ever had," said Cites secretary-general Willem Wijnstekers.

But he warned that the failure to get a 10% boost to Cites' $4.7m budget - members approved only a 3% rise - would hamper efforts to help countries crack down on illegal trades.

Black rhinos

Those groups and nations that felt conservation would be better served in certain areas by selectively opening up trade - by making the animals and plants "pay their way" - were less sure the Bangkok meeting had been successful.

IWMC World Conservation Trust, which campaigns for the sustainable use of wildlife, said some of the key decisions made at the meeting - such as those on the great white shark, ivory and the minke whale - would inadvertently make species conservation more difficult in the long term.

Adult African elephant   Ifaw
Botswana, South Africa and Namibia won support for a one-off sale of existing ivory stocks
It said the decision to list the great white shark on Appendix II was made in spite of very little data showing the species was threatened - except in one part of the world.

And the decision "not to down-list the ultra-abundant minke whale - made on procedural grounds - undermined the concept that Cites should only list species that were genuinely under threat", it argued.

"Cites is saying that if we don't know whether a species is threatened, we'll list it anyway," Eugene Lapointe, president of IWMC, explained.

"If management programmes are working, we'll monitor them to death to delay trade for as long as possible. And if we know for sure that a species isn't threatened, we'll find an excuse to keep it listed." This was not how Cites was supposed to work, he said.

Irrawaddy dolphin upgraded to Appendix I
Minke whales remain on Appendix I
Great white sharks listed on Appendix II
Namibia permitted to trade ivory carvings
Namibia and South Africa permitted to shoot black rhino
Humphead wrasse listed on Appendix II
Some decisions, though, did expand wildlife trade. Namibia and South Africa were allowed to each kill five endangered black rhinos a year to help pay for conservation projects.

And along with Botswana and South Africa, Namibia won support for a one-off sale of existing ivory stocks, only the second since an international ivory trading ban was introduced 15 years ago.

A bid by Kenya for a 20-year moratorium on the commercial ivory trade was also defeated, despite reducing the proposal to six years.

And the United States won a proposal to loosen trade restrictions on the bald eagle in recognition that numbers have surged back from the brink of extinction there.

Great white wins more protection
12 Oct 04  |  Science/Nature
Long-term ivory trade ban defeat
11 Oct 04  |  Science/Nature
Ban for rare Asian dolphin trade
08 Oct 04  |  Science/Nature
Limited black rhino hunt approved
04 Oct 04  |  Science/Nature

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