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Endangered Species Conference Ends After Protecting Trees, Sharks - 2004-10-14

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has wrapped up in Bangkok with conservationists and many of the 166 member nations pleased with steps taken to regulate the trade in rare species, even though most agree more can be done.

Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted to protect a range of species, such as the minke whale and the great white shark and the tropical ramin trees.

The two-week conference wrapped up in Bangkok.

Not everyone is happy with all the decisions made at the conference. Japan's delegation is furious it was unable to get CITES to expand the commercial hunting of the minke whale, which is considered a delicacy in Japan. Some African nations were disappointed that their proposal for expanded trade in elephant ivory was rejected.

Will Travers is the president of Species Survival Network, an umbrella group of 80 international environmental organizations. He says much was accomplished in Bangkok.

"Inevitably there is always more that can be done and I think sometimes there is an expectation that CITES can do more than it actually can," he said. "I think that some people think that CITES is a conservation convention in a pure sense and actually it is a trade convention albeit to limit trade where that is necessary."

Overall, environmentalists came away pleased by the conference. Delegates generally voted to restrict trade, not loosen it. Several new species were added to the list of protected animals.

Debbie Banks, with the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London group, says the delegates also put new emphasis on law enforcement.

"I think one of the topics of discussion on the side-lines here has been political will," she noted. "And that is the political will of the governments to provide resources to the various ministries and agencies that deal with wildlife, but also, importantly, that governments having the political will to provide resources to the enforcement community."

The delegates struggled with the issue of sustainable development - letting countries make economic use of wildlife, without endangering its survival. While many conservationists want to severely restrict economic uses of wildlife, many countries feel they have no choice but to do so.

Beverly Wade, the director of fisheries in the tiny Caribbean country of Belize, which is known for its conservation efforts, says this is a crucial issue.

"The reality is that we use our natural resources and you cannot just blanketly conserve things without looking at the social economic impacts that those decisions are going to have on people," she added.

Ms. Wade says CITES should not arbitrarily group together nations merely because they are involved in a similar activity. She cites the queen conch shellfish, which is found throughout the Caribbean and is Belize's second-largest seafood product.

Ms. Wade says CITES has put Caribbean nations on notice that trade in the queen conch could be restricted. But she says that her government has taken great strides in ensuring that its conch harvest does not threaten the survival of the species in Belizean waters.

Ms. Wade says conservation efforts must take into consideration how they affect people.

"The people factor," she said. "We cannot forget people in this whole equation."

During the conference, Namibia and South Africa persuaded delegates to ease the ban on hunting the black rhino by showing that population is on the upswing. They pledged that the money raised from hunts will be used for conservation efforts.