Big winners & losers at CITES 2004
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2004:
BANGKOK–Minke whales, Irriwaddy dolphins, and great white
sharks were among the big winners at the 13th meeting of the 166
nations belonging to the United Nations Convention on International
Trade In Endangered Species, held October 2-14 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Black rhinos and crocodiles were among the big losers.
Whether elephants won or lost varied with the perspectives of
the participants. A Kenyan proposal to extend the 1989 global
moratorium on ivory trading failed, but the delegates approved a
resolution committing every African nation with a domestic ivory
trade to either strictly control it or halt it.
“Unregulated domestic markets across Africa are fueling a
significant part of the poaching we are seeing in central Africa,”
explained Tom Milliken, eastern and southern Africa director for the
wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC. “These markets
consume up to 12,000 elephants annually,” Milliken continued, “so
it’s time we close this huge loophole in the global effort to save
Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, and
Nigeria have the most open domestic ivory markets, according to
Requests from Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana for
permission to export stockpiled ivory confiscated from poachers and
taken from culled or naturally deceased elephants were still pending
as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.
Namibia and South Africa earlier won CITES permission to sell the
rights to hunt and kill five black rhinos each per year, despite
warnings from the World Wildlife Fund and Born Free Foundation that
allowing any legal commerce in rhino parts could provide cover to
poachers. There are now an estimated 3,100 black rhinos in Africa,
up from 2,410 in 1995–but there were 65,000 when CITES first
convened, in 1974.
Namibia also won authorization to export the hides of Nile
crocodiles, while Cuba won permission to export the hides of
American crocodiles, reportedly abundant there but endangered in the
More than 1,500 national delegates and accredited observers
debated more than 50 proposals to protect wildlife from excesses in
Iconic species dominated the news coverage, but heated debate also
surrounded proposals pertaining to less familiar animals. Four Asian
freshwater turtle species known mainly to wildlife meat market
shoppers won protection: Malayan snail-eaters, Malayan flat-shells,
Southeast Asian softshells, and pig-nosed turtles.
How CITES works
CITES presently regulates traffic in more than 4,700 animal
species and 28,300 plant species. Six hundred animals and 300 plants
internationally recognized as endangered are covered under Appendix
I. All commerce in Appendix I species is prohibited except for
purposes closely associated with conservation. The remaining
enumerated species, listed under Appendix II, are internationally
recognized as threatened. International commerce in Appendix II
species is permitted but closely regulated.
A third appendix pertains to species that are considered
endangered by member nations, but are not yet subjects of
U.S. delegation head Kenneth Stansell opened the CITES meeting by
congratulating the membership because in the 30 years that CITES has
existing, no listed species has gone extinct.
Following Stansell to the podium, CITES secretary general
Willem Wijnstekers warned that too many species are in peril for
anyone to become complacent.
What CITES needs most, Wijnstekers said, is “a increase of
political will in most, if not all, of its 166 parties.”
Traffickers get death penalty
As the meeting got underway, several of the nations most
notoriously involved in illegal trade of endangered species made a
point of demonstrating increased political will.
The most dramatic gesture came from China, where the Lhasa
Intermediate Courton October 5 sentenced ethnic Chinese wildlife
parts trafficker Wang Jie to death, sentenced his ethnic Tibetan
co-conspirator Gong Bu to death with a two-year reprieve, which may
be commuted into a life prison term, and sentenced a second Tibetan
co-conspirator named Laba Ciren to life in prison.
Arrested in October 2003 in Ngamring County, near the
Nepalese border, the three men were convicted of smuggling the pelts
of nearly 1,400 animals, including Bengal tigers, golden leopards,
otter, and lynx. The haul was widely described as the most valuable
collection of wildlife parts ever intercepted in a single action.
The location of the arrests hinted that Wang Jie, Gong Bu,
and Laba Ciren may have been involved in pelts-for-arms dealing with
the renewed Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
Earlier Maoist flarings are believed to have sometimes had
covert Chinese government support, but the most recent outbreak
appears to be funded by trafficking in illegal drugs and wildlife
parts, especially rhino horn.
“Over the last two months we have seized as many as five
rhino horns in Chitwan National Park,” Nepalese ecologist Shyam
Bajimaya told Inter Press Service reporter Ranjit Devraj. “From
examining the carcasses of rhinos left behind by poachers after
sawing off the horns, we find that rhinos are being hunted down with
more and more sophisticated firearms, suggesting that the business
continues to be lucrative.”
Shyam Bajimaya feared that allowing Namibia and South
Africa to export black rhino parts as hunting trophies might doom the
remaining Nepalese rhinos.
Chinese state news media amplified word of the stiff
sentences given to Wang Jie, Gong Bu, and Laba Ciren, but Chinese
officials were less eager to talk about other aspects of Chinese
involvement in buying and selling wildlife products.
In one instance, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, Canada on
September 28 refused to meet with a four-member delegation from the
Animal Defence League of Canada and the World Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who delivered nearly 13,000 signed
postcards protesting against tapping caged bears’ bellies to collect
bile. The postcards charged that, “Bear bile originating from China
is being illegally exported to other countries, including Canada.”
Asian coalition formed
Thailand, the CITES host nation, has pursued an
unprecedentedly aggressive campaign against both wildlife traffickers
and dog meat traffickers for more than a year. Though domestic dogs
are not covered by CITES, many of the individuals involved in
smuggling wildlife such as pangolins, snakes, and turtles to China
and Vietnam for human consumption also smuggle dogs, and hitting
both aspects of their commerce at once was welcomed by much of the
Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra proposed to the
delegates that Thailand should in 2005 host an international
conference about how to set up and fund an Interpol-like Asian
wildlife police force.
His recommendation amplified an earlier suggestion by WildAid
Thailand, and was accepted on October 11 by all 10 members of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Indonesia was elected to
head the committee to draft a plan for joint action against wildlife
“Vietnam, Indonesia, and China seem particularly supportive
of the idea,” WildAid director Stephen Galster told Pravit
Rojanaphruk and Sirinart Siriunthorn of The Nation, a leading
Bangkok newspaper. “The task won’t be easy,” Galster acknowledged,
“but the same concept has already been applied to cross-border drug
Added Galster to Nirmal Ghosh of The Straits Times in
Singapore, “The challenge is huge, but you can reduce the illegal
trade quite a bit by simply investigating traffickers across the
region. The big ones are not that many. Once police agencies get
together and share information, they will find they are chasing the
same trails, and once they start doing joint operations and applying
pressure, they are going to catch some of them. Traffickers are in
the business because it is easy,” Galster emphasized. “They are
making a lot of money, and once you start making it more dangerous
and cut into their profit margins, the traffickers will move into
something else. There has been virtually no cross-border law
enforcement cooperation,” Galster said, “so this is a big moment.”
Apart from increasing international cooperation in stopping
wildlife traffickers, establishing a higher level of law enforcement
oversight may help to prevent corruption.
China is not a member of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations, but is expected to participate in the regional
anti-wildlife trafficking coalition.
Japan loses three in a row
In contrast to the anti-consumptive use displays of other
CITES members with controversial records, the Japanese delegation
boosted commercial whaling with literature handouts and amplification
of an October 11 announcement by the municipal government of
Taijicho in Wakayam Prefecture, a whaling industry stronghold, that
it would restore whale meat to the local school lunch program, and
would produce whale dishes for sale to other school lunch programs.
The Taijiko position did not impress most of the CITES
delegates, who later the same day defeated a Japanese motion to
downlist minke whales.
“Japan used information which was wrong, plain wrong in its
efforts to downlist the minke whale,” IFAW marine mammologist
Vassili Papastavrou told Ranjit Devraj.
Papastavrou explained that the Japanese claim that there are
now one million minke whales involves lumping together the 760,000
Antarctic minkes with the much smaller northern hemisphere
population. The two populations are regarded as separate subspecies,
and rarely if ever meet.
Papastavrou anticipated that Japan woud present a similar
proposal at the closing plenary CITES session, convening after
ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.
“Given the lack of support for the proposal, Japan is sure
to be defeated again,” Papastavrou said.
Japan previously lost a whaling-related vote on October 8,
when the CITES nations approved a Thai motion, 73-30 with eight
abstentions, to elevate Irriwaddy dolphins to Appendix I. Native to
the riverine estuaries and coastal waters of Southeast Asia and
Australia, Irriwaddy dolphins have declined so steeply in recent
years due to accidental drownings in fish nets that the Thai
population is believed to be fewer than 300, and the Vietnamese
population may be no more than 150.
“The species is now critically threatened by hunting for
commercial purposes, especially for show business at aquariums.
Even one more hunt could affect its survival significantly,” warned
Thailand Marine and Coastal Natural Resource department chief Maitree
Japan, backed by Norway and Gabon, had two motives for
opposing protection of Irriwaddy dolphins. One was to avoid any
precedents for further regulating commercial fishing. The other was
that Japanese whalers fear that elevating any toothed cetaceans to
Appendix I status will become an invitation to the International
Whaling Commission to regulate hunting small whales as well as the
The IWC has not yet formally considered regulating small
whales, but has several times passed relevant non-binding
resolutions on their behalf. For example, meeting in Mexico in 1994,
the IWC endorsed Mexican efforts to protect the vaquita whale,
native to the Gulf of California.
For similar reasons, Japan opposed a request from Australia
and Madagascar to add great white sharks to Appendix II. Despite
support for the listing from Thai scuba diving resorts, Thailand
joined Japan in opposition.
“Thailand is a shark fin-consuming country,” Thai Department
of Fishers deputy director general Jaranthada Karnasuta explained to
Kultida Samabuddhi of the Bangkok Post. “A large volume of shark fin
is traded here, and Thai fishers catch more than 10,000 sharks each
year. Strengthening shark conservation regulations would obstruct
the fishing industry,” Karnasuta added.
Describing a 94% drop in the population of great white sharks
in Australian waters since 1980, Wildlife Conservation Society
scientists were persuasive enough to push the Appendix II listing
The official Japanese delegation was left fuming over
repeated defeat, but attorney Masayuki Sakamoto, serving as
secretary general of the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society and also
chair of the Asian Conservation Alliance, was “jubilant at the
results of the voting,” wrote Ranjit Devraj.
“We have to recognise that most of the high seas do not
belong to any specific country, and that the species in them are
part of the world’s common heritage,” Sakamoto said.
“The fact is,” Sakamoto added, “the present generation of
young Japanese dislike whale meat, and attempts by the government to
promote meat obtained from so-called scientific research whaling have
Lapoint vs. IFAW
As a preliminary to the whaling debates, International
Wildlife Management Consortium president Eugene Lapoint on September
29 accused the International Fund for Animal Welfare of trying to
improperly influence CITES by paying the travel expenses of several
members of the Russian delegation and delegations from Africa.
“Lapointe, a former CITES director, now a lobbyist for
countries and industries which want to open up the trade in
endangered species, said the animal protection lobby was dominating
CITES meetings,” wrote John Vidal of The Guardian.
IFAW spokesperson Peter Pueschel acknowledged that IFAW was
financially assisting the delegations from Togo, Sengal, and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The countries would have come anyway, but sometimes there
are key people like the directors of national parks who need to go
and would otherwise not be able,” Pueschel told Vidal. “These
people are not necessarily on our side,” Pueschel continued. “They
are on the national delegations, but do not vote. We have also
arranged meetings for several countries to meet each other,” Peschel
said, “but they would otherwise not have had the chance to discuss
Recalled Vidal, “IFAW was one of 28 animal protection groups
which 15 years ago complained to the United Nations that Lapointe was
lobbying to open the trade in endangered species while a CITES
employee. He was fired in controversial circumstances, but received
a settlement after the U.N. found that his dismissal was ‘arbitrary
Lapointe is probably best known for his efforts to defend
Canadian seal hunting and fur trapping.
Vidal noted that Lapointe’s allegations about IFAW parallel
charges from animal advocates that Japan buys votes at CITES and IWC
meetings by sponsoring the participation of small island nations,
which then support Japanese proposals to resume commercial whaling.