CITES update: Mixed results for endangered species
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CITES update: Mixed results for endangered species

Increased protection for elephants, rhinos and polar bears has so far failed at the current Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. On the other hand, participating nations have voted on greater conservation measures for turtles and manatees.

Kenya and Burkina Faso led a proposal for including more countries in a pledge not to sell ivory stockpiles before 2016. Kenya also pushed for an end to the export of horns from rhino trophy hunting in South Africa, often used as a loophole for illegal sale in China. Both were voted down.

Furthermore, several species were removed from protection lists because they are now extinct. Among those are Australia’s crescent nail-tail wallaby, buff-nosed rat-kangaroo and dusky flying fox. Although looking up these creatures, they seem to have been extinct long before CITES even existed, so one wonders why they were on any list to begin with.

The fight for elephants is not lost, however.

From the Guardian:

At the Cites talks, 19 nations face bans on all wildlife trade unless they crack down on the poaching, smuggling or sale of illegal ivory. The summit is also considering compulsory forensic testing of seized tusks, so the criminal chain can be traced and compulsory reporting of stockpiles of ivory, to prevent corruption or thefts.

New protections for 47 species of turtle are mainly the result of negotiations between the United States, Vietnam and China. Freshwater turtle populations have declined since sea turtles became protected – a consequence of the resulting shift in the market.

From the Washington Post:

More than half the world’s freshwater tortoises and turtles face extinction, yet they are hunted for food, pets and trinkets made from their shells, mostly in Asia. Turtles are also killed by urban sprawl, boat strikes and crab traps, particularly in Texas, Maryland and other Gulf and Mid-Atlantic states. Crab bait also lures turtles.

The worry now is that increased protections for Asian freshwater turtles will again shift the market – this time towards turtles from the US.

One flaw about CITES is that it is dependent on international policing in order to be effective. This is problematic in every country, what to speak of some of the poorer nations of the world (Burkina Faso, Laos, etc.). When it comes to status symbols and folk medicine, which fuel an incredible amount of the damaging illegal – as well as legal – trade, the logical answer is simple: change people’s habits through education and the demand will naturally decrease. When demand drops, so will poaching and unsustainable practices.

Naturally, changing attitudes and habits is not easy, but it is possible. Furthermore, it’s absolutely necessary. Trying to cure cancer with rhino horn and manta ray gill plates kills not only rhinos and rays – it kills people. And no one really needs (or particularly enjoys on a culinary level, I’ll wager) shark fin soup either.

In short, make animal parts out of vogue. People are trendy. Educate them. Shame them. Get their kids to bother them. Whatever it takes.

For a similar opinion read this editorial in the Bangkok Post.

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Trade in diamondback terrapins has become stricter, pic: Jenny Mastanuono, USDA