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Controversy stalks endangered species convention
Reopening the ivory trade and resuming commercial whaling in Norway and Japan are two of several controversial issues swirling around the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
More than 2,000 representatives of governments, conservation groups and trade organizations are expected to attend this year's CITES meeting April 10-20 in Nairobi, Kenya. At issue are listing decisions that will determine the Conservation and animal welfare groups have anticipated the event since the last CITES conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1997. "It takes a great deal of effort to either add or subtract a species from listing," explained Karen Steuer of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
As the only regulatory agency in the international trade of endangered species, CITES addresses conservation and trade regulation on several levels.
Plant and animal species are listed under two main appendices. The most endangered species are listed under Appendix 1, which allows trade only in specific cases. Appendix II comprises threatened species that may become
Contention is already in the air over the possible resumption of ivory trading in Africa. At the last CITES conference, governments agreed to "down-list" elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe from Appendix I to Appendix II in order to carry out a one-time experimental sale of existing ivory stocks to Japan.
These countries want further authorization to trade more elephant products. South Africa is also proposing to change the listing of its elephant populations from Appendix I to Appendix II.
Kenya, India and a coalition of conservation groups have objected to South Africa's proposal on the grounds that extending the ivory trade will increase illegal poaching. They propose listing all African elephants under Appendix I.
"Since 1997, we have seen increased activity in the illegal market for ivory," said Michael Wamithi of Kenya's wildlife service. Wamithi said reports of 60 dead elephants in Kenya last year are particularly worrisome because "it takes such a long time for elephants to mature."
In central Africa, the situation is more dire because many elephants are being killed for their meat as well as their ivory. Wamithi said an average of four elephants a week are being taken by poachers in the Congo region.
Japan and Norway will likely make political waves at the conference with a proposal to resume, albeit conditionally, the hunting of minke and gray whales. The two countries maintain that whale stocks are healthy enough that they should be transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II. Conservationists contend that down-listing will open the floodgates to legal crises and mismanagement. They also fear that an Appendix II listing could reopen the commercial trade of whales to other countries.
Another hot issue on the CITES agenda is a proposal by Cuba to resume limited trade in hawksbill turtle shells. Conservationists say the current Appendix I status should be maintained for hawksbills.
"The history of trade in this species clearly indicates that illegal trade in sea turtle products flourishes under the cover of legal trade, said Steuer. "Illegal trade in sea turtle species is the highest volume, most widespread, most long-term and persistent illegal trade of any CITES Appendix I species in the convention's 25-year history."
Proposals to list basking and great white sharks under Appendix II would guarantee the first protection under CITES for a commercially fished marine species. Shark-finning the practice of killing sharks solely for the value of their fins has seriously depleted shark stocks.
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