A precautionary approach is key to CITES

Friday, March 12, 2010
(Doha, Qatar – 12 March 2010) - On the eve of the 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, IFAW is calling for countries to reflect on the world’s rapidly disappearing biodiversity and to make decisions based on the precautionary approach, which protects species of conservation concern for the future rather than for short-term profits.

Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Parties to CITES have a heavy responsibility. With species disappearing from our planet daily – CITES Parties can and must make a difference.”

This is the Chinese Year of the Tiger and Parties have the opportunity to help protect wild tigers for future generations.

“China showed great leadership in implementing a domestic ban on the trade in tiger bone in 1993 complementing the international ban on the trade in tigers, a CITES Appendix I species,” said IFAW’s Grace Ge Gabriel. “Despite this ban, the illegal trade in tiger parts is thriving in anticipation of a re-opening of a legal market. This illegal trade is driving the already depleted population of fewer than 3,500 wild tigers ever closer to extinction.”

Recent investigations in China have found an increase in the illegal sale of products claiming to contain tiger parts from tiger farms, both online and in stores. While there are fewer than 50 wild tigers left in China, tiger farms collectively have over 6,000 tigers and boast an annual reproduction rate of 800. Operated also as safari parks for tourists, these tiger farms openly sell products such as ‘tiger bone wine’ as health tonics.

“Any reduction of demand for tiger parts in China that has resulted from the government’s trade ban is undermined by this illegal trade,” warned Gabriel. “These tiger farming businessmen are cultivating a new demand for dead tigers, fueling the illegal trade in wildlife and stimulating the poaching of wild tigers.”  

IFAW is calling for countries to support a proposal submitted by Sweden on behalf of the EU member states that would prohibit breeding of tigers for commercial trade of their parts and products.

At the last CITES conference in 2007, Parties agreed to a nine-year moratorium on any further trade in ivory. And yet proposals have been submitted from Tanzania and Zambia seeking permission for a one-off sale of 112 tonnes of ivory. With or without such permission, these two countries are hoping to open the door for future ivory trade by ‘down-listing’ their elephant populations, which would mean that these elephants will lose the highest protection.

At the same time there has been a massive escalation in seizures of illegal ivory since the last meeting, and there has also been a dramatic increase in poaching of elephants in central and parts of eastern Africa.

“To permit any step towards further trade in ivory makes no sense whatsoever – it flies in the face of every basic conservation principle and is contrary to the agreement made at the last meeting,” said IFAW’s Jason Bell-Leask.

The African Elephant Coalition of 23 African elephant range countries opposes the proposals for the one-off sales, insisting that the nine-year moratorium provides all African range states the opportunity to cooperatively secure elephants in their habitats and assess the impacts of the previous legal sales.

As the World Wide Web becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives, so too does the Internet trade in wildlife, another topic for CoP15 of CITES. IFAW has conducted several investigations revealing the trade of wildlife over the Internet is thriving with little control, creating a crisis for endangered species.

“There is only one way to halt this crisis and that is rigorous enforcement of strict wildlife trade policies,” said IFAW’s Paul Todd. “We are glad to see that the CoP will be addressing this important issue.”

However, an e-commerce proposal that has been put forward at CITES fails to address some of the issues that are at the heart of the Internet trade problem.

IFAW is encouraging Parties to support stronger language proposed by Germany that would require all Parties to the CITES Convention to review their domestic legislation to ensure that offers for sale on the Internet of illegal CITES specimens are treated as offences against CITES implementing legislation.  

Polar bears – the poster child of climate change - will also be discussed at CITES. There are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the wild living in Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States. Leading polar bear scientists believe that two-thirds of the world’s polar bear populations will be lost by mid-century because of habitat loss due to climate change.

IFAW believes they clearly meet the criteria for an uplisting to Appendix I of CITES. To vote no to the United States’ proposal is to vote ‘No’ to polar bears and to hasten the demise of this remarkable animal.

The aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not have detrimental impacts on them or threaten their survival.

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