CITES conference ends with strong decisions on wildlife conservation

Updated on 12 January 2021

For use of the media only;
not an official document.


CITES conference ends with strong decisions
on wildlife conservation

Tighter trade controls agreed for mahogany, sharks, sea horses, turtles, parrots
Ivory sales made conditional on improved monitoring of poaching

Santiago, Chile, 15 November 2002 – A two-week conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will conclude today after adopting decisions that promote wildlife conservation through various strategies involving strict protection, trade regulation and sustainable use.

"The key to global wildlife conservation in the 21st century will be to craft solutions that meet the specific requirements of each species and its specific circumstances," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES, whose secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Programme.

"CITES is well-placed to contribute to the conservation of a wide range of plants and animals through its rigorous system of trade permits and certificates, its ability to limit commercial trade when it proves detrimental to a species, and its support to national conservation and enforcement departments in developing countries,"he said.

Among the high-profile decisions taken here was the listing of mahogany – which produces extremely valuable timber – on CITES’ Appendix II. This listing requires each of the mahogany range states to ensure that all exports are sustainable and covered by CITES export permits.

"It is highly significant that after 10 years of discussion, the Parties to CITES have agreed to regulate the trade in Latin American mahogany," said Mr. Wijnstekers. "The well-tested control measures developed under CITES will prove invaluable for discouraging illegal trade. This decision will also benefit local and indigenous communities who have lost out to the illegal traders."

Another critical decision reached in the final hours of the meeting was to list the whale shark and the basking shark on Appendix II. This is widely considered a landmark agreement as CITES has not traditionally played an important role in global fisheries.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, measuring up to 20 metres in length and weighing up to 34 tonnes. The listing proposal cited the species’ declining numbers and the role of continued international trade in whale shark meat, fins, and liver oil. The basking shark is highly migratory and is hunted for its meat and fins. Large numbers are also caught and killed accidentally as by-catch.

The conference also added 26 species of Asian turtles to Appendix II. Many turtles from South, Southeast and East Asia are traded in significant quantities for regional food markets, Asian traditional medicines and international pet markets. Their numbers have been dwindling in recent years, and the newly listed species are vulnerable or endangered throughout their ranges. There is extensive evidence of illegal trade, but turtles are also harvested for subsistence consumption. Habitat loss is another major threat to their survival.

The trade in seahorses will also now be regulated for the first time. Seahorse populations seem to have declined dramatically over recent years owing to commercial trade, by-catch in fisheries, coastal development, destructive fishing practices and pollution. To meet the growing demand for traditional medicines, aquarium pets, souvenirs and curios, at least 20 million seahorses were captured annually from the wild in the early 1990s, and the trade is estimated to be growing by 8-10% per year. All 32 seahorse species will now be listed in Appendix II.

Three rare birds from Central and South America – the yellow-naped parrot, the yellow-headed parrot and the blue-headed macaw – have been transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I. This means that no commercial trade will be permitted. This stricter regulation reflects concerns that the birds’ numbers have continued to decline in recent years due to trade and habitat loss.

A number of threatened species in Madagascar – one of the world’s most species-rich countries – will also receive stronger protection. They are the flat-tailed tortoise, various chameleons, a burrowing frog, and the Madagascan orchid.

The meeting also agreed to set a zero quota for commercial trade in the Black Sea population of bottlenose dolphins, which was already listed on Appendix II. These dolphins have declined greatly in recent years due to hunting, pollution and other stresses.

Building on an earlier consensus amongst most African elephant range states, CITES also agreed on a rigorous regime for controlling any eventual trade in ivory stockpiles. It conditionally accepted proposals from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa that they be allowed to make one-off sales of 20, 10 and 30 tonnes, respectively, of ivory. The ivory is held in existing legal stocks that have been collected from elephants that died of natural causes or as a result of government-regulated problem-animal control.

The agreement requires any future one-off sales to be supervised through a strict control system. The sales cannot occur before May 2004 to provide time for baseline data to be gathered on population and poaching levels and for the CITES Secretariat to confirm whether any potential importing countries can effectively regulate their domestic ivory markets and are thus eligible for importing the ivory. The aim of these controls is to prevent any illegal ivory from entering into legal markets and to discourage an upsurge in poaching.

Another protection built into the system is that trade can be suspended if the CITES Secretariat and Standing Committee find either an exporting or an importing country to be in non-compliance. In addition, trade can be stopped if there is evidence that trade negatively affects elephant populations in other regions of Africa. Two monitoring systems that have been established to track the illegal killing of elephants (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants, or MIKE) and illegal sales of ivory (Elephant Trade Information System, or ETIS) will be critical to ensuring that countries relying on tourism are not harmed by ivory sales from countries that also rely on trade.

Still other decisions seek to strengthen domestic conservation of threatened or endangered species already controlled by CITES, including bears, the tiger, sturgeon, and the Tibetan antelope.

The 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention was held from 4 – 15 November. It was attended by some 1,200 participants from 141 governments as well as numerous observer organizations. CoP13 will be held at the end of 2004 or in the first half of 2005 in Thailand.