Saving marine mammals and tigers: The balance of nature vs. the balance of terror

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1994:

WASHINGTON D.C.––The poli-
tics of wildlife protection are at the fore this
month as Congress rushes toward renewing
the Marine Mammal Protection Act on the eve
of the annual push by whaling nations to gut
the whaling ban enacted in 1986 by the
International Whaling Commission––and
everyone has something to trade but the
cetaceans and pinapeds whose fate depends on
the outcome. Simultaneously the fate of wild
tigers and rhinoceroses worldwide would
seem to depend more upon the success of
negotiations over inspection access to North
Korean nuclear power plants than upon either
economics or ecology.
A foreshadowing of the probable
compromises ahead over marine mammals
came on April 11, as President Bill Clinton
barred U.S. imports of wildlife products from
Taiwan effective in mid-May. Said Clinton,
“The world’s tiger and rhinoceros populations
remain gravely endangered and will likely be
extinct within the next two to five years if the
trade in their parts and products, fueled by
market demand in consuming countries, is
not eliminated.”

Clinton’s action simultaneously
marked the first-ever U.S. sanctions against
Taiwan for any reason and the first applica-
tion of any international economic force on
behalf of tigers and rhinos. Just nine days ear-
lier, a week-long meeting of delegates to the
122-nation Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species discussed tigers and
rhinos at length in Geneva, Switzerland––and
broke up without imposing sanctions on any
nation. The best CITES could muster was a
declaration of concern about intense tiger
poaching in Siberia, and an agreement to
review the performance of Taiwanese and
South Korean conservation efforts again this
November. Taiwan dodged CITES action for
at least six months despite failing to either
adopt a stronger wildlife conservation law, or
destroy all existing confiscated stockpiles of
rhino horn and tiger bones, as previously
required by CITES.
But the unilateral U.S. sanctions
were also more a message than a lever, in
that they affect less than a tenth of a percent
of Taiwanese exports to American markets.
Taiwan annually sells the U.S. $20 million
worth of wildlife products, chiefly reptile
skin shoes and coral gew-gaws, but total
sales to the U.S. in 1993 were $23.5 billion.
Further, the Administration warned
China as well as Taiwan of the possibility of
trade sanctions over the traffic in tiger and
rhino parts back on November 5, 1993.
Arguing that China moved more decisively
than Taiwan against tiger and rhino part
traders, a high-level interagency committee
recommended on April 5 against imposing
similar sanctions against the Chinese.
Chinese officials did burn a stockpile of con-
fiscated rhino parts and begin a publicity
campaign to counteract widespread belief in
the medicinal and aphrodisiacal powers of
tiger bone, tiger penis soup, and rhino horn.
But, reported Thomas Friedman for The New
York Times, “In 1993 alone, South Korea,
which also practices traditional medicine,
imported 1.5 tons of tiger bones from China,
after China officially banned tiger exports,
according to South Korean customs records.
It takes more than 200 tigers to produce 1.5
tons of bones, wildlife experts say.” And
then he got to the bottom line:
“At this moment of tension between
Washington and Beijing over whether the
U.S. will renew China’s trade benefits, the
last thing the Clinton administration needed
was to open a new dispute with China over
tiger parts.”
Nor was U.S. leverage even sug-
gested against South Korea. The reason was
clear: if North Korea really has nuclear
weapons and really wants a fight, as some
intelligence experts suspect, the U.S. wants
the Chinese and South Koreans to supply the
ground troops and take the hardest hits when
and if war breaks out––in which case the
chances for the 100 Siberian tigers left in
China, the 200 in Siberia proper, and the
150 Amur tigers would be nil anyhow. Only
the 325 tigers in Nepal and perhaps 2,700 in
India would have a chance of escaping the
effects of nuclear fallout concentrated in the
food chain.
Marine mammal protection
Nuclear war at least is not an issue
where marine mammals are concerned, but
trade war is. As ANIMAL PEOPLE w e n t
to press, Congress was just two days from
deadline for either reauthorizing the Marine
Mammal Protection Act or having to extend
the status quo during continued debate. Both
the Senate and the House passed versions of
the MMPA on March 21, but negotiations to
reconcile their different bills stalled over a
Senate amendment added March 24, just
before the House recessed for spring break.
The amendment acceded to the import of
polar bear trophies from Canada, previously
a sticking point, on condition that two years
after trophies were admitted, a study be con-
ducted to see if the imports had harmed the
polar bear population. Members of the
Congressional Sportsmens Caucus apparently
objected to the definition of “harm.”
Nina Young, marine mammologist
for the Center for Marine Conservation,
pleaded on the Internet for fellow scientists to
join her organization, the National Audubon
Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and the
Marine Mammal Center in support of S.
1636, the March 21 version of the Senate
bill, without the March 24 amendment. She
argued that compromise would be necessary
to avoid losing other provisions she favored,
including “a revised two-tiered permit system
for scientific research permits that would
drastically reduce the time required for scien-
tists to obtain the permits; a total ban on the
intentional shooting of seals, sea lions, killer
whales, and other marine mammals who
interact with fishing operations; [and] a spe-
cific program to reduce the accidental deaths
of marine mammals in fishing gear to
insignificant rates approaching zero in seven
Having a renewed MMPA in hand
would significantly strengthen the U.S. posi-
tion at the 46th annual meeting of the IWC in
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, coming up May
23-27. Warned Robbins Barstow, director
emeritus of the Cetacean Society
International, “It would be a tragic shame if
the Clinton Administration went down in his-
tory as the one under which the resumption of
killing whales for profit was legitimized. Yet
this will be the case if the IWC adopts a
Revised Management Procedure,” on the
May meeting agenda, “providing for the
authorization of so-called science-based com-
mercial whaling. Even if not immediately
implemented, such action would be a green
light for resuming the global slaughter of
whales and would open the floodgates to
uncontrollable trade in whale products.”
Barstow cited the inherent unrelia-
bility of voluntary reporting of cetacean kills,
as evidenced by the recent revelation that the
Russian fleet killed many times more whales
than it admitted to killing during the 1960s,
and the commercial manipulation of scientific
research, demonstrated recently by the
Japanese and Norwegian use of “scientific
research” as pretext for massacring as many
as 400 minke whales between them in recent
years. The whale meat was then sold com-
However, word from Norway in
mid-March was that prime minister Gro
Harlem Brundtland was finally willing to live
up to her reputation as “the Green Queen” and
back away from whaling as a concession
toward securing admission to the European
Community. “Norway will respect the
Union’s laws with regard to keeping and
building up the whale stocks so that one can
have a sustainable whale population,” she
wrote to the EU Council of Ministers.
Explained Steve Best, vice presi-
dent of the International Wildlife Coalition,
“This letter means a total retreat from all the
important points in the high-profile fight for
whaling that Norway has been leading. It
means that Norway in this round gives up the
fight to get minke whales, orcas, and fin
whales removed from the so-called Habitats
Directive of over 20 species.”
Best was cautious, however. The
etter, he pointed out, “does not say that
Norway will reserve the right to conduct
whaling if it is ecologically sustainable. On
the other hand, the whale arrangement with
the EU does not mean Norway has to stop its
limited whaling. The Habitat Directive has
an exemption clause which means that mem-
ber countries in the EU can conduct hunts
themselves on species which are generally
protected,” on condition that the countries
report semi-annually on the number of ani-
mals killed.
Other issues on the IWC agenda
include the creation of a Southern Ocean
whale sanctuary around Antarctica, recom-
mended February 24 by a working group of
IWC delegates but opposed by Japan and
four Caribbean nations which are heavily
dependent upon Japanese aid; and a U.S.
application for a quota of 141 bowhead
whales to be killed by Alaskan aboriginals
during the next three years, renewing an
extant quota.
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