No more minke business!

UN Convention hailed as victory for endangered species

Feature story - 15 October, 2004
The Rainbow Warrior sails home today safe in the knowledge that we have secured --for now-- the future of many species including the minke whale, the great white shark and the irrawaddy dolphin.

A group of Greenpeace activists hang a banner reading 'Don't Trade Away the Planet' from the Rama IX bridge in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Over the last several weeks the Rainbow Warrior has been in Bangkok, Thailand, leading the battle at the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). This isn't just any old convention, the results are global and legally binding.

Our key objectives for CITES were to achieve increased protection for some key ocean and forest species. We were also determined to ensure that Japan did not achieve its proposed downlisting of minke whales - which would have meant that limited numbers of them could be caught and traded commercially. (So much for their "scientific" whaling program!)

When CITES opened, an extensive Kids for Forest programme raised the profile of the issues in Thailand. Children built a jungle in one of Bangkok's most famous parks over the weekend when CITES was meeting, took part in a Kids Parade at the meeting venue and made a presentation to the Thai Environment Minister.

Here's a blow by blow account of what happened in Thailand ... and what happens next.

How CITES Works
Species under CITES are classed in an "Appendix" detailing the level of protection:
  • Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
  • Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.



Download Ramin Factsheet

Ramin is a key tree species for the survival of orang-utans in SE Asia and one which is being traded illegally and unsustainably, particularly in Europe. It now has Appendix II protection under CITES. Another commercially exploited timber species, Agarwood, which is traded particularly in the Middle East, also got Appendix II protection.

During the convention, Greenpeace completed a six-week investigation in the field into illegal ramin smuggling from Sumatra, Indonesia, into Malaysia and Singapore. These findings were released with the arrival of the Rainbow Warrior in Singapore.

We didn't stop there though - activists protested outside the embassies of Malaysia and Japan against Malaysia's involvement in the illegal ramin trade and their opposition to the Appendix II listing for ramin. We also highlighted Japan's "horrendous," (to quote one campaigner) positions on ocean issues. "[They were] so awful it was unreal!" If you think that's an exaggeration, then keep reading.



Download Great White Shark factsheet

The Governments of Australia and Madagascar had proposed the listing of the great white shark on Appendix II. Despite its high profile, not to mention fame as the star of the horror movie 'Jaws', the great white shark has become a rarity in the world's oceans. As great white sharks travel long distances and cross national boundaries, intergovernmental efforts to protect the species are crucial to their survival.

The great white shark was awarded Appendix II status.



Download Humphead Wrasse factsheet

What's a humphead wrasse, we hear you ask? The Governments of Fiji, the Member States of the European Community, and the US have submitted a proposal for the inclusion of this funny-looking fish in CITES Appendix II in response to the over exploitation of the species from international trade.

Once again, Japan was fierce in its determination to stop this but was heavily defeated in Bangkok.



Download Irrawaddy Dolphin Factsheet

The irrawaddy dolphin, a rare cetacean from Asia, got onto Appendix I despite concerted efforts from a number of nations including (no surprises here) Japan.



Download Minke Whale Factsheet

Japan also completely failed in its attempts to get minke whales downlisted - they were yet again heavily defeated.

Following the disastrous impacts of whaling during the 20th century, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) suspended commercial whaling in 1986. Japan is keen to resume trade in whale products, but in order to do so they need to downlist whales from CITES Appendix I.

This is the 5th successive proposal by Japan to downlist minke whales from Appendix I to Appendix II. All previous proposals failed by a substantial voting majority because they did not meet the necessary scientific criteria.



Download African Elephant Factsheet

Namibia put in a proposal to have an annual quota of raw ivory of 2000 kgs. They also sought permission to trade in "worked ivory"- these are carvings made by local communities which are used in jewellery. Both South Africa and Namibia wanted to trade in elephant hair and leather goods.

At the same time Kenya submitted a resolution for a 20-year moratorium until systems were in place to effectively control domestic and international trade in ivory.

Unforunately, the Kenyan proposal failed.

On a more positive note, Namibia's proposal to have an annual sale of 2000 kgs was also rejected by parties, thoug in the end a majority agreed the sale of ivory carvings by local communities for "non-commercial" purposes. Both South Africa's and Namibia's proposal to sell elephant leather and hair goods were agreed.

"We are not supportive of this," said Greenpeace campaigner Nathalie Rey. "History shows that any sale of ivory products increases the likelihood of illegal trade and poaching of elephants. These proposals were agreed despite a number of countries with elephant populations (Kenya, India) arguing that this is dangerous for the conservation of their own elephants."

Disappointingly, the 25 EU votes abstained on the issue, which gave Namibia the numbers they needed to approve trade in worked ivory.


The most important aspect of CITES is that it is not the usual type of political meeting. "This Convention is not just a talk fest. When parties vote for listings of species this has real bite and is legally binding," said Greenpeace campaigner Tim Birch. This means that delegates left the convention with a lot of homework - implementing the agreements made so that the crucial protection for these endangered species is achieved.

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