Good news for some endangered species

Posted: 19 November 2002

There is good news for the conservation of a number of key species such as mahogany, marine wildlife and the Asian big cats as a result of the latest meeting of governments which have signed up to CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The twelfth Conference of the Parties (CoP 12) was held in Santiago in November 2002.

Exactly 10 years after the first attempt, bigleaf mahogany was listed on CITES Appendix II. According to WWF, this will provide increased protection to this tree species, which plays a crucial role in tropical forest eco-systems. Without this listing it could have become commercially extinct in as little as five years, due to illegal logging and unsustainable trade.

The conservation organisation also argues that, with the listing of whale and basking sharks (both votes were dramatically overturned in the final plenary session), as well as seahorses on Appendix II, CITES has at long-last recognized the need for the Convention to include commercially exploited marine fish on its appendices.

This is a major breakthrough for the conservation of, and sustainable trade in, marine fish species threatened by over-fishing or poorly managed fisheries. In addition, Japan's attempt to downlist Minke and Bryde's whales to Appendix II, so that it can justify its increasing whaling activities, was heavily defeated.

"WWF hails these important decisions. They will have significant benefit, not only for wildlife but for communities whose livelihoods depend on sustainable trade," said Dr Susan Lieberman Head of WWF's delegation. "For the first time, CITES has assumed an important new role by regulating international trade in species traditionally regarded as commodities rather than wildlife. This was highlighted by the historic listing of bigleaf mahogany on Appendix II."

Other votes taken at CoP 12 mean that Asian leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards will also receive increased support through the Convention. Similarly, Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass) - with some stocks threatened with commercial extinction - although not listed, is now firmly on the CITES agenda (see Last chance to save the Patagonian toothfish).

Furthermore, WWF is pleased that proposals to set annual quotas of ivory trade were withdrawn by the proponent African countries. Although one-off shipments of ivory might occur in late 2004, this does not mean the ivory trade will be reopened, unless certain strict conditions are met. Nonetheless, WWF is aware that, along with potential benefits to local communities and elephant conservation in southern Africa, the decision to allow a one-off trade also carries some risk.

"WWF is pleased that the large majority of governments were able to make pro-conservation decisions despite a greater level of political wheeling and dealing than ever before," added Dr Lieberman. "Now we call on CITES governments to fully fund, implement and enforce the important decisions made in Santiago this month."

Source: WWF press release (15 November,2002)