FILE - Radiated tortoises, originally a native species of southern Madagascar, are on display during an annual flora and fauna expo in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 29, 2010.
FILE - Radiated tortoises, originally a native species of southern Madagascar, are on display during an annual flora and fauna expo in Jakarta, Indonesia.

GENEVA - Tackling the illegal trade in endangered wild fauna and flora and strengthening trade rules for fisheries, timber, and exotic pets are just a few of the many controversial and emotional issues to be discussed over the next two weeks at a World Wildlife Conference opening in Geneva Saturday.  

Thousands of delegates are expected to gather at Geneva’s cavernous Palexpo Exhibition center.  They will be lobbying for their pet wildlife projects through elaborate, imaginative displays and persuasive talk fests.

The 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, is hosting this extravaganza.  CITES sets the rules for international trade in wild animals and plants.  

Governments interested in changing the levels of protection that CITES provides have submitted 56 new proposals for discussion.  These, says CITES range from proposals to ensure trade in at-risk species remains sustainable to calls for a ban on trade in species threatened by extinction.

FILE - Conference attendees walk by a display of elephants and other wildlife at The International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Honolulu.

One of the hot button issues on the agenda is that of the conservation of African elephants.  Chief of CITES Scientific Services, Tom De Meulenaer, says the debate on trade in elephant ivory has been raging for 25 years.  He says three new proposals will be under debate.

“Two of them are coming from southern African countries and they seek to liberate or to open up trade in ivory again," said De Meulenaer. "There is a third proposal from other countries in Africa, which is in competition with this one because it seeks to close all trade in ivory.  Obviously, these three proposals are not compatible and will be subject of deliberations by the COP (Conference of the Parties).” 

The conference also will consider new wildlife trade rules on an array of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants.  A topic likely to generate a lot of interest is whether to exempt musical instruments made of precious wood from trees protected by CITES.

Bass guitars, violins, clarinets and other musical instruments are made wholly or partially from Rosewood and other precious woods.  Organizers promise a fascinating debate with prominent members of the music industry.

One of the overarching problems threatening the survival of many wild animals and plants is that of illegal international trade in wildlife.  CITES warns the growing involvement of organized crime groups increases the risks faced by enforcement officers such as park rangers.

The conference is not just a talking shop.  It has teeth.  CITES is a legally binding treaty.  So, officials say anything decided at the conference will have a concrete impact on citizens, businesses and governments in 90 days when the new rules come into effect.