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Earth Matters: Whales win, sharks lose at endangered species summit
NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- For some threatened species, including two kinds of whales, protection by international law was re-affirmed this month. For others, like three at-risk shark species, protection was denied.
Some 150 official delegations took part in an international summit in Kenya, each representing a country that has signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES.
On the agenda were proposals affecting trade in many kinds of animals and plants. None were more controversial than those involving elephants.
The CITES agreement has banned international trade in elephant ivory for more than a decade. But at the conference, four Southern African countries with large elephant populations applied for approval to sell ivory every year to Japan. Kenya and other nations strongly oppose the request.
"The ivory trade would stimulate laundering of ivory through all the illegal markets across the world," said Nehemiah Rotich of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Finally, in a remarkable compromise, the Southern Africans withdrew their ivory proposals. African delegates agreed to monitor elephant poaching until the ivory question is raised again at the next CITES conference in two years.
Another divisive subject was whales. Japan and Norway sought approval for commercial hunting of some populations of gray and minke whales. But delegates said no.
"I'm very pleased to see none of the proposals got even a simple majority; quite a big vote against them," Naoko Funahashi of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.
In another rejection, Cuba was refused permission to sell a stockpile of hawksbill turtle shells to Japan. All international trade in marine turtles is illegal under the CITES treaty.
But conservationists lost when delegates rejected proposals for trade restrictions on three shark species -- whale sharks, basking sharks and great white -- despite evidence that high demand in Asia for shark fins is threatening them.
"It's really frustrating to see that major fishing industries from Asia, Scandinavia and Latin America are really pushing countries' delegates to not accept the necessity for protection of sharks," Peter Peuschel of Greenpeace International said.
The conference considered other wildlife trade issues, including those affecting tigers, bears and the growing commercial trade in bushmeat, which threatens wild populations of gorillas and chimpanzees in Central Africa.
Most of these are critical wildlife conservation issues that will be on the agenda again at the next CITES conference in 2002.
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