Animals Win and Japan Fumes at U.N. Wildlife Meeting
BANGKOK The future looked brighter for leaf-tailed geckos and great white sharks as a U.N. meeting on trade in wild plants and animals ended on Thursday.
They were among a list of species which reads like the passenger list for Noah's Ark accorded new safeguards at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
But the head of CITES said he would have to scramble to find the money to meet the promises made in Bangkok.
There were plenty of diplomatic rifts at the meeting, where emotions often ran high and divisions did not follow the standard United Nations fault lines.
Japan was fuming over the failure of its bid to expand trade in whale products, accusing the West of "cultural imperialism," and African countries swapped blows over ivory.
Namibia failed to get permission for an annual export quota of 2,000 kg (4,400 poounds) of ivory. But during the plenary session, it got approval to allow local communities to trade in ivory trinkets, known as ekipas a move bitterly opposed by Kenya.
"This sends a wrong, wrong signal," said Kenyan delegate Patrick Omondi.
Kenya led the charge against the Namibian proposal because it fears any reopening of the ivory trade would be exploited by poachers, who would target its elephants in a bid to launder "dirty" ivory with fresh, legal tusks.
But conservation group WWF International said it was confident Namibia's tightly controlled, small-scale trade in ivory trinkets would not lead to poaching of elephants.
The decision allows two ethnic minority communities the Owambo and Ovi-himba to resume traditional ivory carving of the amulets coveted by African art collectors.
Conservationists hailed many of the conference decisions, including one to regulate trade in about 30 species of ramin, a tropical hardwood in huge demand for furniture production. Illegal harvesting of the species is one of many threats to one of humanity's closest living relatives, the highly endangered orangutan ape, by shrinking its habitat.
The conference also approved a proposal by southern African countries to control trade in a rare plant sought by drug companies for its appetite-suppressing properties.
China and the United States buried their usual differences at the United Nations and joined forces to slap restrictions on trade in Asian yew trees, which provide the compound for one of the world's top-selling chemotherapy drugs.
Namibia and South Africa managed to lift a ban on hunting rare black rhino. And trade in the body parts of the feared great white shark of Jaws fame will now be regulated.
CITES listings regulate trade in wild flora and fauna, but they do not give complete protection.
For example, a CITES listing would not prohibit development that could threaten the habitat of the species in question. CITES does not prevent drilling or logging which endanger its charges.
But trade in wild animals is widely seen as a threat that is second only to habitat destruction, and so CITES is an important conservation tool.
The big question is who will pay for it.
CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers said the commitments made in Bangkok would be hard to meet after delegates rejected a 10 percent budget increase, approving only a 3 percent rise to just under US$5 million for the next three years.
"More to do, more promises to developing countries, and no follow up financially or resource-wise," Wijnstekers said.