CITES protects elephants but not sharks & polar bears
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:
DOHA, Qatar–Leading a last-minute rally to keep ivory
billiard balls out of fashion, the Kenyan delegation ran the table
on behalf of African elephants at the 15th triennial meeting of the
signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, held in Doha, Qatar from March 13 to March 25, 2010.
Formed by the United Nations in 1973, CITES in 1989 banned
international traffic in elephant ivory, but CITES triennial
meetings have several times authorized exemptions allowing Botswana,
Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to sell stockpiled ivory from
legally culled elephants, confiscated from smugglers, and collected
from elephants who died of natural causes. The exemptions–and
rumors that exemptions may be granted–have repeatedly been followed
by resurgent poaching throughout the wild elephant range in Africa
and Asia, as illegal traffickers respond to the opportunity to
market poached ivory under forged legal cover.
Just 37 elephants were poached in Kenya in 2007, for
example, when CITES extended the ivory trade moratorium for nine
more years, but 271 were poached in 2009.
Tanzania and Zambia asked for exemptions allowing them to
sell 112 tons of stockpiled ivory, expected to fetch $13 million to
$20 million. Tanzania applied to sell 80.5 tons; Zambia sought to
sell 21.5 tons.
Tanzania and Zambia also applied to downlist African
elephants from CITES Appendix I, which bans all commercial trade in
a species, to Appendix II, which allows controlled trade.
The Times of London and the East African, of Nairobi,
projected just ahead of the critical votes that Tanzania and Zambia
had the support of the two-thirds of CITES delegates that they would
need. They also projected that Kenya did not have the two-thirds
support that it needed to extend the ivory trade moratorium for
another 20 years. Japan and China reportedly backed the Tanzanian
and Zambian proposals, while the U.S., Britain, and other European
Union nations reportedly opposed the Kenyan proposal. But The
Nation, of Nairobi, and Gulf News, of Dubai, heard different
rumblings from the 23-nation African Elephants Coalition, led by
Kenya and Mali, and the Species Survival Network’s Elephant Working
Come the showdown, literally at high noon on March 22, the
Tanzania application to sell elephant ivory was defeated. Zambia
withdrew its application to sell elephant ivory. The proposal to
downlist African elephants was defeated despite winning a majority of
the votes actually cast, 55-36. The proposal failed because 40
nations abstained from voting. Kenya then withdrew its motion to
extend the ivory sales moratorium, which appeared to have been a
The voting was swayed, reported Mike Mande of The East
African in Nairobi, by findings of the Journalists’ Environmental
Association of Tanzania and the Environmental Investigation Agency,
of London, that as Mande summarized, “Since January last year,
Tanzania has been implicated as the source of nearly 50% of the ivory
seized worldwide.” Aldan Hartley of BBC-4 and Wildlife Direct, an
anti-poaching charity founded by two-time former Kenya Wildlife
Service director Richard Leakey, alleged in The Spectator magazine
that as many as 31,000 elephants have been poached in Selous National
Park, Tanzania, just since 2007.
Bobcats still safe
A less publicized CITES victory for animals came on March 17,
when the delegates refused to ratify a U.S. proposal, backed by the
fur industry, which would have reversed a 1977 ban on international
sales of pelts from Lynx rufus, the North America bobcat. Bobcats
are not considered endangered or threatened, but closely resemble
the endangered Iberian lynx.
Other CITES triennial decisions included a series of defeats
for animal and habitat advocates. The CITES delegates on March 18
rejected a U.S. proposal to move polar bears from Appendix II to
Appendix I, on March 21 rejected proposals to protect bluefin tuna
and the 32 species of pink and red coral on Appendix II, and on
March 23 rejected proposals from the U.S. and Palau to add
hammerhead, spiny dogfish, and oceanic whitetip sharks to Appendix
Porbeagle sharks appeared to have won an Appendix II listing
on March 24, but the vote was reversed on the following day.
“Opposition by Japan, China and their allies led to the
defeat of every proposal to give CITES protection to lucrative marine
species,” wrote Kristen Eastman of the Humane Society of the U.S.
On March 22 an agreement was reached among CITES members,
including India and China, to better coordinate international
efforts to interdict trafficking in tiger parts. “There have been
many promises made this week,” Species Survival Network big cat
working group chair Debbie Banks told The Times of India, “but
getting countries to actually use these new enforcement tactics will
be the real test of the commitment to ending tiger trade, and saving
Former Australian environmental official John Scanlon was
named to succeed Willem Wijnstekers as the CITES secretary/ general.
Wijnstekers, serving since 1999, is to retire on May 1, 2010.