Survival plans needed for threatened species

CITES must put preservation before profits at Santiago meeting

Feature story - 4 November, 2002
Theories abound for dinosaurs' dramatic exit from the planet millions of years ago. Now another mass extinction is underway on Earth, but this time the cause is amply clear: humans. It's time to stop trading Earth's biodiversity for profits, and put preservation first at UN negotiations now underway in Santiago, Chile.

Japan recently expanded its illegal whale catch to include endangered Sei whales. The Japanese government is trying to re-open the international trade in whales at CITES.

"When the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again."

- Twentieth century naturalist and explorer William Beebe

Each year billions of dollars worth of international wildlife trade is done. Larger numbers of at-risk species would end their days as musical instruments, coats, jewellery or gourmet treats if it weren't for the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). With 160 members, CITES boasts that not one of the 30,000 species it controls, from elephants to frogs to orchids, has become extinct as a result of trade since the Convention entered into force in 1975.

Will this positive record continue? There are 54 proposals on the table at this CITES meeting, but not all of them push for more protection. In fact, some highly controversial proposals concerning whales and elephants would actually undermine species conservation.

No! to trade in whales & elephants

Greenpeace vigorously opposes a proposal from the Japanese government to "downlist" stocks of minke and Bryde's whales. (Read more in our feature article on whales.) Right now, CITES lists whales under Appendix I, which excludes them from international commercial trade except in very special circumstances. By proposing to downlist these whale species to CITES Appendix II, whales would be open to commercial trade on the basis of CITES permits or certificates.

Re-opening this international trade in any form would be disastrous for whales. The commercial harvest of whales proved utterly impossible to manage in the past. The CITES Secretariat has recommended that member nations oppose the Japanese proposals because they are contrary to CITES own rules, and to its long-standing agreement to harmonise CITES whales regulation with the International Whaling Commission's ban on harvesting whales.

Five proposals to trade in ivory from African elephants must also be opposed. Southern African countries have accumulated ivory stockpiles which cannot be traded. Yet even this international ban has not stopped the destruction. Poaching of elephants continues in both Africa and Asia and ivory exports have been seized. Greenpeace believes five proposals from African countries to trade their ivory stockpiles would be a big mistake. Experience shows the legal trade would fuel the illegal - an increase in poaching and expanded illegal trade across borders.

Unlike these proposals for elephants and whales, there are some very important CITES proposals for protection which must receive support in Santiago.

Yes! to protection for mahogany & toothfish

The thirst for profits drives an international trade in mahogany, a trade fuelling broader rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon. ( Read more in this feature story.) Even Brazil's moratorium on harvesting and exporting mahogany has failed to stop the crime, and this "green gold" continues flow out of protected Indian lands and into prestigious northern showrooms. The proposal to list mahogany under Appendix II must be strongly supported by CITES members, because it would help eliminate this illegal harvest and trade.

Another key proposal would address the grave problem of rampant and illegal overfishing of Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish in the remote Southern Ocean. (Read more here in our feature story.) Without effective protection, these fisheries could collapse in ten years or sooner. This fishery also results in a tragic bycatch of rare and endangered sea birds, like the highly-endangered Amsterdam albatross. If successful, the proposal to list toothfish under CITES Appendix II would support existing conservation efforts and stave off the toothfish's current slide toward commercial extinction.

Take Action

You can take action to help the Chilean Sea Bass. Send a fax to the CITES delegation asking them to support the Australian proposal and list toothfish on CITES Appendex II.