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March 25, 2010

CITES Summary: Wildlife Win Some, Lose Some

Last November, I wrote about our efforts to crack down on the international wildlife trade. I focused in particular on our preparation for the fifteenth meeting of nations participating in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha, Qatar. The meeting ended today, and the results were mixed, I am sorry to say. Still, I am pleased to report that we achieved new or improved protection for dozens of species affected by international trade. As a result, tens of thousands of individual animals will stay in the wild each year instead of being captured or killed.

Bobcat
Ray Eubanks/Fund for Animals Wildlife Center

Gaining CITES protection from the international exotic pet trade are four species of critically endangered spiny-tailed iguanas from Honduras and Guatemala, five species of Central American tree frogs, and a critically endangered species of salamander from Iran known as Kaiser’s newt. You see, we at The HSUS care for all of God’s creatures, no matter how low they rate on the charisma scale.

The CITES Parties rejected proposals from Zambia and Tanzania to reduce CITES protection for their populations of African elephants and to trade in ivory, and also voted down a proposal from the United States to eliminate CITES protection for the bobcat, 50,000 of which are trapped and their fur exported annually.

New initiatives to protect dwindling wild tiger populations were adopted, including a renewed call for countries that allow breeding of tigers for commercial trade in their parts and products, like China, to phase out such activities, and new measures to address poaching and illegal trade of rhinos were approved. CITES Parties also rejected proposals to allow international trade in captive-bred birds of 15 threatened and endangered parrot species, including the yellow-shouldered macaw, great green macaw, Moluccan cockatoo and yellow-crested cockatoo (all listed on CITES Appendix I, which are species that cannot be commercially traded under normal circumstances).

But there were setbacks—some tremendously disappointing. European Union opposition was decisive in the defeat of a strong U.S. proposal to list the polar bear on Appendix I, which would have banned international commercial trade in polar bear parts such as skin rugs. Currently, about 300 adult polar bears are killed each year and their parts traded internationally. Polar bear numbers are predicted to decline by two-thirds in the next 40 years due to melting sea ice habitat, and trade in their parts is compounding trouble for the giant bears.

Unfortunately, too, strong opposition from Japan, China and their allies defeated every single proposal for commercially valuable marine species, including the hammerhead shark, whitetip shark, porbeagle shark, spiny dogfish shark, bluefin tuna, and pink and red corals. For these species, economic interests trumped serious and well-documented conservation concerns, casting doubt on whether future CITES proposals for similar species would stand a chance of achieving the necessary support.

Our CITES team also expressed concerns that at this meeting politics edged out precaution for many of the proposals seeking greater protections for animals. It’s a trend we’ll work to reverse.

Our HSUS team of wildlife scientists and experts prepare for months in advance of the meeting and they ably represent the interests of wildlife throughout the world. It’s part of our commitment to all animals. The next CITES meeting will be in 2013 in Thailand. You can count on The HSUS and our global arm, Humane Society International, to be there.

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