Mixed news from CITES as critical day for sharks begins
It has been a week of mixed fortunes at the 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, as conference committees work painstakingly through a complex agenda that will affect the lives of millions of animals of many species. Representatives from Humane Society International (HSI) are at the meeting pushing for stronger protection for marine species in particular, with proposals of interest including those on sharks, freshwater sawfish, manta rays, the polar bear, green geckos, and the African elephant, amongst many others.
Results so far:
The HSI supported US proposal to uplist the Polar Bear to Appendix I of CITES, which would see the international commercial trade in this species banned, disappointingly failed to gain support. The proposal proved to be a controversial one, with range state Canada including their representatives from the Inuit community and Greenland/Denmark speaking out against the proposal, whilst other range states US and Russia were strongly in support.
The European Union rolled out an alternative proposal at the last minute, however HSI’s analysis was that this compromise would do little for the polar bear, and we urged parties to support the Appendix I listing proposed by the US. The EU amendment failed to achieve the two-thirds majority, so voting moved to the US proposal which unfortunately also failed to pass. This means that the polar bear will remain on Appendix II of CITES, and the unsustainable international trade in polar bear products will continue. This is a very disappointing outcome, however HSI and our coalition partners will now be analysing the results in conjunction with parties in the hope this may be brought back for further discussion plenary at the end of next week.
One of the great success stories of the meeting so far concerns the African manatee. The proposal to uplist the species from Appendix II to Appendix I was brought to CITES by three West African countries - Senegal, Benin and Sierra Leone. Much hard work from West African range states, supported by HSI and many other groups within the Species Survival Network, saw the proposal adopted by consensus, meaning that the international trade in the meat of this threatened marine mammal is now banned.
Turtles and geckos
The CITES Conference of Parties has also considered a range of other species, and a number of freshwater turtles and tortoises and a range of gecko species were added to the Appendices on Friday. The New Zealand Government was seeking CITES’ help to regulate the trade, and assist enforcement authorities around the world in confiscating illegally obtained specimens of New Zealand green geckos (Naultinus spp), which are in decline due to being much sought after for the European pet trade. HSI gave these proposals our full support to ensure the best chances for success, and New Zealand’s proposal was adopted by consensus.
Consideration of proposals to provide protection for a total of 47 turtle species followed, and were adopted by consensus by CITES Parties. This included one of the world’s rarest turtles, the Roti Island snake-necked turtle, and three North American species: the spotted turtle; Blanding’s turtle; and the diamondback terrapin, which are in demand overseas for the pet trade and for human consumption. This is excellent news as it means that all Southeast Asian freshwater turtle species are now listed on the CITES Appendices and a number of the most threatened species have been granted increased levels of protection. With HSI having a keen interest in turtle conservation in SE Asia, this added protection will assist with our ongoing efforts.
Still to come:
At the time of this release the very important shark and related species proposals are under discussion. Covering a range of species including the hammerhead, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, these proposals are likely to meet a lot of opposition from those countries that have traditionally opposed the inclusion of marine species on the CITES Appendices, namely Japan and China.
There are a number of shark and ray proposals being considered, including:
- Oceanic whitetip shark
- Scalloped hammerhead
- Smooth hammerhead
- Great Hammerhead
- Porbeagle shark
- Manta rays
- Three species of freshwater stingray
HSI supports the listing of all of these species under Appendix II of CITES as a result of dramatic population declines, driven by the unsustainable level of fishing of sharks for the trade in their fins and other products.
“Shark and ray populations are in trouble and international trade is a key driver in their decline as sharks are being taken at an unsustainable rate primarily for their fins for shark fin soup,” said Alexia Wellbelove of Humane Society International. “CITES provides us with an important opportunity to better regulate shark products to sustainable levels and help protect the future of these species. We are therefore strongly urging all countries to support these proposals.”
There is still the possibility in the last plenary session of the Conference of Parties for any of the decisions made previously to be altered. We can be sure that there will be drama until the very end and HSI will be there to do the best that we can for the animals in urgent need of protection.