We discussed the international trade in animals in our global phone-in programme, Talking Point, with our guest, the conservationist and wildlife artist, David Shepherd.
The United Nations agency set up to monitor the trade in endangered species is meeting to consider 50 new proposals to its convention.
They include proposals from Namibia to relax the ban on the trade in elephant ivory and from Japan to relax the ban on hunting minke whales.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was drawn up to protect wildlife against over-exploitation and to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction.
But many believe that the controls to protect some species, like elephants and whales, go too far and that trading bans should be relaxed to allow local communities to benefit.
How can the illegal trade in wildlife be stopped? Do all species deserve protection? Should poor countries be free to harvest wildlife resources or are trade controls an essential way to protect wildlife from extinction?
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This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The reality is that limited and controlled hunting will bring in a lot of money. This will give the animals in question value. If the animals have no economic value to the local population they will be replaced with animals that do, i.e. farming and cattle. Game management is a realistic way of ensuring these resources are preserved.
It's irrational to allow people to hunt an endangered species simply because the animal resides on their continent or in their country. The Black Rhino is a spectacular species which allows a rare glimpse into history. We have so much to learn from these and other animals which are endangered. The animals should be protected and left for the entire world to admire and enjoy, not just for people with money to exploit a people and destroy one of the world's last remaining large-horned animals.
Michael Rivas, Berkeley, CA, USA
I tend to agree with the WWF position, that if a limited hunt is allowed then it could weaken other controls against poaching. South Africa should support the CITES agreements for the principles they stand for, rather than trying to wiggle out of them on technicalities. They should be happy to conserve wildlife and go forward to do more in doing so because it is a national treasure. There is much to be gained from non-hunting safaris. What is the thrill of killing an animal which stands little chance against modern weapons?
Philip Roslin, BSc (Hon), Canada
Any exports of endangered species, however well controlled are going to: encourage consumer appetite for their products; facilitate abuse of restrictions. If rhinos have been cut down to 1/30th of their former population, a mere 40% increase now is not sufficient. At least let us wait until their numbers have increased 30-fold.
Beryl Williams, Wakefield, UK
I'd love to see all animals protected, but what's the point? We're destroying the world through pollution and resource drain etc so many living animals (even currently non-endangered ones) will be wiped out in the next century anyway. Until we sort this out it isn't worth saving the elephants.
Richard Harrison, UK
The illegal trade in wildlife can be stopped if every government can make it a priority to monitor all aspect of wildlife as they do with other natural resources such as gold and petroleum etc. Not all species deserve protection but the most valuable ones and others that are running out of existences should be protected. I think every country have a legal right to harvest what is on its soil so far no harm is intended by such a country. Trade control is an essential way to protect wildlife from extinction but is not the most essential, there are still much damage done within-and-out of trade.
Garland Orhue Ogiegor, Egor, Nigeria
We need to dually tackle the endangerment of the world's wildlife and the condition of the Third world. The West has a way of separating the two, showing Africans killing out animals and not showing why. They don't show the effect that the IMF is having on Africa where families are starving, people are uneducated, etc.
Owen Shahadah, London, UK
I think the UN is the only organization capable of raising awareness on this matter and achieving any success.
Zeina, Amman, Jordan
Short term economics aside, I think that mankind (even in developing nations) should view itself as a protector of the gift of its natural wildlife rather than attempt to exploit it. If properly organized, there is a lot of money to be made in wildlife tourism. The rule of survival of the fittest no longer applies to humans. We are today capable of totally destroying life on the planet. Attitudes need to change, and it's time for a paradigm shift in mankind's approach towards his planet.
Ramesh Chidambaram, Delft, Netherlands
Extinction may be a natural course in nature but humans are guests on this planet just like every other creature. We have no right to decide what lives or dies. The argument let nature take its course is fine, when humans are not destroying or raping our world of its riches and wonder. I want my children to see what I have. If you don't agree with this simple thought, you do not belong on this planet and are probably responsible for the climate change that humans have clearly started.
Stephen Evans, Swansea
Controls do not go far enough. We are slowly destroying our planet. When will people realise that the balance of nature must be maintained at all times, we are destroying animals habitat without a thought of the effect it will have on us.
E Reade, Cardiff UK
There should be no restriction to poor countries to harvest wildlife as citizens of that country will have to meet their basic needs. Therefore I appeal to the International committee that poor countries should be free to harvest wildlife resources to help generate income and jobs.
Richard Ruati, Yambio
The global attitude towards endangered animals is quite passive and negative. There is no strong atmosphere changing humans' minds. Many just want to earn money from killing the animal.
Humans killing animals has always happened. Developing countries deserve to make use of its resources as they see fit. Imagine what the US would do if someone else said anything about its hunting and gaming. Our own bald eagle is facing extinction, and there are Americans that still shoot it down. Unfortunately, poorer countries are in no position to stand up and say, this is our land, and we will write our own policy. I believe the ban should be relaxed enough to give countries that need it the chance to make some money, but not enough so that our planet's precious species die out.
CJ, Wyoming, USA
It's easy for me to sit in my air-conditioned office and say how African farmers shouldn't be harming their wildlife when I don't have to deal with elephants trampling my crops and big cats attacking my family and livestock. It is clear that so-called "big game" animals attract safari tourists so it is worthwhile to demonstrate how the animals are economically useful alive. Otherwise I have no more right to tell Africans to leave elephants alone than they have to tell me not to kill the fox that attacks my chickens in the night.
John B, UK
It is beyond belief that the United Nations Agency is even going to consider relaxing these bans. If 2 of the most magnificent creatures on earth cannot be protected from the exploitation of Man then what hope is there for rest of the animals on earth. It disgusts me that the majority of the population have allowed a minority to hunt and poach for their own financial gain. Anyone caught killing wild animals and destroying our planet for their own financial gain should be shot , they do not deserve to live on this planet .
Jaqui, Wokingham , Berkshire
Species have always been exterminated by stronger species. Why should we make an effort to change the rule of Mother Nature? For example Mountain Lions continuously attack humans but their survival keeps getting sponsored. Who is the prey and who is the hunter here? Eat or get eaten.
Lukas, South Tyrol, Italy
Trading should not be relaxed. These animals have a right to live and who says that the local communities benefit from this? These communities will always be in a poor tragic state whether the trading ban is relaxed or not. The problem is another.
Charlie, Verona, Italy
Extinction passes only once, and lasts forever. Its not that we inherited the world's wildlife from our forefathers, rather we're borrowing it from grandchildren.
Ron Shears, Australia
It is man who encroaches on animals' territory, and not the animals which encroach on man's land. Who gave man the right to kill animals which he did not rear for food. Let them leave in peace, not pieces.
Mark, Pune, India
The ivory trade did not exist in earnest until European colonial powers saw the money to be made from this so-called white gold and, exploiting slave labour, devastated elephant populations which had stood at around 10 million in Africa in 1900. Legal trade almost saw off the continent's herds before the 1989 trade ban, with numbers dropping from 1.3 million to 600,000 in just nine years. Today there may only be 400,000. Yet these centuries of ivory trade never had any impact whatever on alleviating poverty in Africa.
Trading away seriously endangered animals is a very dangerous development strategy. Africa needs better governance, wealth distribution and land use policies to address its socioeconomic problems - not further plunder of its natural resources, which does nothing but make foreign traders rich. Anyone who thinks even limited trade in this commodity can be successfully controlled is dreaming, because a legal market is what the poachers need to launder their illegal wares.
Claire Wallerstein, London, UK
Yes, we are doing enough for making sure man will be the last one walking the earth. Do we deserve this? Is God blind?
Harris Papadopoulos, Munich, Germany
Lift the ban? Absolutely not. How about targeting the buyers of ivory worldwide? There must be some way to devalue it. I've even heard of plans to allow officials culling the elephant herds to be allowed to sell the tusks legally with special licensing. Then there's another to use DNA to identify registered tusks. Either of these schemes is self-defeating as each further reinforces the rarity and value of the product.
Why don't we ask - Who buys ivory? Why is it fashionable? How can we make it a less desirable product? Heavy penalties maybe. Fine the retailers or have laws against ownership of ivory. Monies could then go towards habitat reclamation. We hear of the hunters and suppliers in Africa, but who buys it, who sells it? Public shaming of owners, artisans, and dealers might be more effective than a scheme to make some ivory legal and licensed. Hypocrites.
Nicole Boutin, Honolulu, HI, US
Advocates for hunting and trade often use the excuse that poor people in developing countries rely on these activities for their daily survival. The real problem is the issue of unsustainable development in a lot of these poor countries, which should be addressed by their local governments and international aid agencies. The reason the world we live in today is such an environmental disaster is because we human beings exploit all our natural resources without understanding that our existence depends on ensuring all the other species we share this earth with continue to flourish.
Poor people in developing countries do not want to hunt mink whales or trade ivory for a living, it is the rich people who create the demand for these exports. We want the educational opportunities to improve ourselves, so that we can look after our own natural resources in a sustainable way.
Irra Sundram, Malaysia
Most people who have written in have most likely never seen nor never will see an elephant in the wild. Export a small heard of elephants and let them loose in the home counties or Washington and see how many people demand that they are removed or killed by poachers/farmers.
Paul, Western Australia
In poor countries it's the human who is the endangered species.
Patrick Egan, Ireland
I agree that trade controls are essential to protect wildlife extinction. By relaxing controls, poor countries will begin to rely on wildlife harvesting for a source of income and not look for other opportunities. Poor countries will not advance from this practice because once wildlife becomes endangered again they will fall back into the same position.
Rada V, Ontario, Canada
These creatures didn't put themselves into near extinction, humans did. Why would anyone want to speed up the process? I'm surprised it's even an issue really.
Jill Pesce, NY, USA
Human beings have always exploited animals with no regard for the animal's welfare or survival. Isn't it time we evolved into people who both protect animals and assist those humans who lack the ability to provide food, shelter, education and medicine for themselves. It's about control and organisation without greed and corruption. A fantasy at the moment but worth aiming for.
Harvey Grainger, Preston, England
The trade ban on elephant ivory should without a shadow of a doubt be maintained. Poaching at the present time is hard enough to fight; do we really want to create a high value tradable commodity. Origin will be difficult to control and poaching may soar out of control. The benefits to local communities will be limited and certainly unsustainable which will ultimately bring us back to the initial ban but sadly this time it may be too late.
Alexandre Drouhin, Francheville, France
Of course there should be no lifting of the ban on trading ivory or hunting Minke whales for that matter. Have we learnt nothing from the last 50 years? We hunt a species to extinction, then place a ban on it, and just as the species is recovering we feel justified in starting all over again - amazing!
Darren Addicott, Bristol, England
It's a catch 22 situation. You over protect endangered species, there is low supply and demand is high. Consequently, the prices for products of endangered species go crazy high and the illegal business in endangered species becomes very lucrative. Over protection only benefits a few courageous illegal dealers at the expense of the majority.
Daniel Maimbo, Lusaka, Zambia
Although I don't agree with killing of any animal I can see how in Namibia it might be a necessity to get food and water for the people there. But there is no reason for Japan to hunt and kill Whales! They would hunt these mammals into extinction and for what? Because they like to taste of whale meat!
Nick W, Australia
Whales certainly need to stay protected. There is no certainty on their stocks and their numbers are nowhere near pre-whaling levels. Local communities can benefit a lot more from the whale watching industry than they can from an industry which kills whales and has a falling demand for the meat.
Lisa Kitson, Bermuda
The best way of harvesting resources from wildlife is through ecotourism, providing that the ventures involve local communities and serve to educate and enlighten all who participate in them without disturbing the plants or animals to a detrimental degree. The revenues from sensibly managed and well-run ecotourism ventures can far exceed the profits from unsustainable slaughter of endangered species.
Chris, Manchester, UK
All this talk of nice drive-thru, tourist parks are a fine idea for the few rich people able to go to Namibia and do it. But would the local villages see any of the profits? I highly doubt it, which again leads us back to people who want to eat, people who want to raise crops without elephants tearing up their family's food. Namibia should do what is best for its own people, including the right of its citizens to feed themselves and farm their futures and sell the ivory from destructive elephants. No one, especially those who sit down to 3 squares a day, is entitled to tell the people of Namibia that elephants are more important than the survival of Namibia's people.
Lisa, Wisconsin, USA
Although it's not ideal, they should be allowed to do so. It's all very well us sitting in our rich countries talking about morals and responsibilities, but people in poor countries need incomes and jobs and they need them now. Maybe if governments in developed countries felt they had a 'moral responsibility' towards helping the people of poor countries, instead of being concerned with suppressing their ability to trade in other commodities, things wouldn't have come to this in the first place.
Bizarre as it may seem, hunting and conservation are not necessarily at odds. Licensed hunters would have a considerable interest in maintaining their livelihood and hence have a huge incentive to stamp out poaching and also to preserve their prey's habitat. This could indeed help maintain sustainable numbers of certain endangered species.
John Lancashire, Reading, UK
An elephant to a rich man is an object of beauty for preservation. An elephant to a starving man is a potential meal to be exploited. Whether Japan hunts whales or not is not a life or death decision. Japan wants to hunt whales because whales taste good. Whether Namibia can feed starving boundary villages by selling certified ivory from necessary culls, is a completely different situation.
I do not condone culling at all, but elephants are very destructive creatures with no natural predators. Elephants confined to the relatively tiny roaming areas mankind has kindly allocated, cause irreversible damage. Selling a by product of the cull is good. Are we to suggest that the meat should not be sold either?
Sean, South African in Belgium
Yes, what other countries do within their own borders to their own wildlife is their own business. If they ask for our assistance to protect the wildlife, then that's when we could intervene. Otherwise all this moralising about the big beasts of our time are self-indulgent nostalgia. There is no need to extend the evolutionary sell-by date of these species.
Certainly not: all forms of life have an undeniable right to live. Further we have a duty to protect wildlife from extinction. The trade in endangered species is callous and has to stop. There are certainly other less cruel ways to generate income and jobs. The protection of wildlife is sacrosanct and over-exploitation is a bane that has to be stamped out by stringent laws.
Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium
The best way to preserve anything is through private ownership and management. It works for rain forests, alligators and other endangered things.
Vernon, Nashville, USA
If you have been to Botswana/Namibia and have seen the devastation that the large herds of elephants do to the vegetation (i.e. completely stripping everything) it is easy to understand why the local people support a culling.
Andrew D, London, UK
Species have come and gone long before humans took over this planet, it's part of evolution. I think it is up to the individual communities to find the right balance to benefit themselves and sustain the wildlife. As for us having an obligation to protect endangered species, where did this responsibility come from? Mankind will continue to exist happily with or without these species.
Despite efforts from those who truly care enough of these animals still die anyway. By relaxing the rules it will simply increase the numbers of dead. Things should be left alone, if not tightened (with the offer of aid to make having the wildlife around a financially generating alternative). Those who break the law should also face greater punishment.
Ian C, UK
Pretty sad that someone would be willing to kill a several ton elephant for a few feet of ivory. There should be harsh punishment if you are caught selling or buying ivory. The same goes for shark fin soup. How can someone cut the fins of a live shark and dump it back into the ocean and let it suffer a horrible death all for soup?
Stacy, Ohio, USA
No definitely not! In fact these creatures deserve far more protection than they are already getting. I do not agree with the exploitation of any animal especially where there is not a real need. These people are as usual only looking to make money at the expense of a living creature.
John Legrove, London, UK
A truly bizarre proposal indeed! You are hardly going to protect wild animals by slaughtering some for commercial gain, that would be obscene! A far better idea would be to help areas of fertile Africa to farm crops to produce bio fuels that in turn they can sell for valuable revenue! You never know, some African States might be enabled to be self supporting - now wouldn't that be both novel and highly desirable!
Chris Green, Hagley, England
I think that biodiversity should be protected and hope that overseas aid only goes to countries that do this. Then again we in the west are not perfect with over fishing in UK waters and nor have we have re-introduced some species that were made extinct in the past.
David, London, UK
Imagine having to tell your grandchildren, "in my days there were still elephants living wild and huge fish we called whales". How sad would that be.
Leen, Ghent, Belgium
How anyone could condone killing an elephant for its tusks or killing a whale is beyond me. Poor countries should be free to sell their goods to countries who don't subsidise their own. Using economy for justification in this case is ridiculous when there is much more important issues effecting developing economies. Surely Japan's economy can survive without a few whales?
Dan, Leeds, UK
I fail to see how local communities will benefit in the long-term when all these endangered species no longer exist. Wouldn't tourism and conservation benefit local communities much better? The ivory trade in particular seems somewhat outmoded these days. At one time it stood for man's struggle against mighty beasts. Now there isn't even the struggle. Bang, it's dead. The conquest has no meaning. A little education education wouldn't go amiss either.
Ferg, Sheffield, UK
This is a problem that environmental managers across the world are facing daily. Yes, indigenous people should be allowed to harvest wildlife resources as long as they are used responsibly, e.g. for clothing or food. We have a responsibility to preserve local cultures and traditions though, and to not charge in and lecture them on how to live their lives. A lot of local people from such areas know better than we do about the dynamics of local habitats and whether they are being over exploited. We need to work together with these people if the best solution to this problem is to be found.
Daniel Curwood, Annesley Woodhouse, UK
The answer is a very strong "NO!". Relaxation of bans currently in place would result in further loss of critically endangered species - elephants and rhinos being perhaps the most obvious. Even with stringent bans in place these species are being continuously reduced by poaching.
David Woods, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
"Poor countries harvesting wildlife resources to generate income" certainly doesn't include Japan! Namibia stands to make far more revenue from tourists wanting to see live elephants than buy bits of dead elephant.
Peter, Nottingham, UK