A round up of wildlife trade

17 June 2007


For the last couple of weeks, politicians from all around the world have been meeting to talk about endangered species and to try and decide whether trade in certain species should be restricted to prevent them from becoming even more endangered.

Every year millions of wild animals and plants are traded as pets, medicines and food and in 1963 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES, was set up to regulate the trade of wild species between countries to help protect them from becoming extinct. 

For a long time the trade in many highly endangered species like tigers and pandas has been completely banned, while other, less endangered species can still be traded but only under strict regulations and controls.

Every two years, members of CITES meet to decide on which species should have their trade banned, which should be regulated and which are doing okay so can be traded as much as anyone wants to.

This year, around 50 species were proposed to either be added to CITES or for their level of protection to be upgraded to a full trade ban and of these there were various successes and a few failures too.

One species that has been added to the list that can't be traded are the sawfish, a bizarre-looking type of shark with a huge long nose or rostrum covered in sharp teeth which are dried and hung on walls as marine curios and in South America the teeth are used in cock-fighting.  The trade has also been banned in the slow loris, a cute cuddly primate with huge nocturnal eyes which looks a bit like a gremlin before it gets wet.  Slow lorises live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and are kept by some people as pets.  For both sawfish and the slow loris it is likely that other problems such as destruction of their wild habitat and pollution are more important in determining their future than just international trade, but its hoped that the publicity they will get through listing on CITES will help raise their profile so these other problems can also be tackled.

Among the CITES failures this year are two species of shark - the porbeagle and the spiny dogfish - which are threatened by global fisheries for their meat as well as their fins for Asian shark fin soup.  And you might think shark meat is not especially attractive to eat, but you could well have eaten spiny dogfish without knowing it because it is sold in fish and chip shops as huss or rock cod. 

These two species are in a terrible state with numbers declining around the world, so it's a huge disappointment that they have not been included in CITES which would have been the first international regulation on their exploitation.

And possibly the most controversial decision made at this latest CITES meeting was to allow the one-off sale of stockpiles of Ivory from several southern African countries.  Some people think that allowing some legal trade in ivory will stimulate elephant poaching for the illegal trade which continues to be prolific especially in Zimbabwe, but on the plus side, any proceeds made from selling these ivory stock piles must be used for elephant conservation projects - and there will be no more legal trade for at least 9 years.


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