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SOS Rhino : In the News : Nations gather in Thailand to help protect world's most threatened species

Nations gather in Thailand to help protect world's most threatened species

  Posted: 01 October 2004 1449 hrs
MediaCorp News
Channel NewsAsia International

BANGKOK : The trade in some of the world's rarest species from the fearsome great white shark to the delicate orchid will be scrutinised here from Saturday accompanied by demands for tougher action against smugglers.

Representatives from 166 nations will gather in Bangkok from October 2 to 14 to discuss some 50 proposals on the regulation of trade in rare or endangered animals and plants and to protect them from extinction.

The stakes are high as the trade is worth billions of dollars and covers more than 350 million plant and animal specimens every year, organisers say.

Illegal smuggling threatens to tip some species into extinction, prompting calls for better policing of decisions made by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The meeting highlights species that need trade protection after becoming threatened through over-harvesting, pollution and habitat destruction.

Kevin Adams, the chief of law enforcement for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said a crackdown on smuggling had to be backed up by laws with lengthy jail terms.

"One message that will resonate in Bangkok is that law enforcement is a necessary tool in all of this," Adams told AFP. "We don't see our business decreasing."

The gathering sets the stage for a new round in several longstanding battles. The CITES meeting, held every two or three years, is again expected to witness fierce debates over whaling and the ivory trade.

Japan is heading moves to ease trading restrictions over some minke whale populations which have recovered to one million worldwide after decades when their numbers dwindled through hunting.

Another key row is likely over the ivory trade, as some southern African nations with well-managed elephant populations want to make it easier to sell ivory and leather abroad.

Conservationists have warned that illegal ivory seizures in Asia have been rising for a decade, driven by strong demand from China.

"Asia has always been a big CITES problem with China becoming more and more capable of buying wildlife products," CITES secretary-general Willem Wijnstekers told AFP.

The conference will deal with other animals whose dwindling numbers have forced nations to confront the threat of species extinction.

From the aquatic world, conservationists want more protection for the great white shark -- best known through the "Jaws" films but in great demand from hunters for its teeth, jaw and fins.

They want trading controlled for the humphead wrasse, a large fish from the Indian and Pacific Oceans which can live for 30 years but is threatened by demand from restaurants in Hong Kong, China and Singapore.

Measures to protect Asian turtles and tortoises, over-exploited for food and for the pet and collector markets, figure on the agenda.

Indonesia has proposed tighter controls for trade in ramin, one of Southeast Asia's highest earning export timbers but hit hard by heavy and often illegal logging.

There are proposals to ease trading rules on some of the icons of the wildlife conservation movement of the 1960s and 70s, such as the rhinoceros and bald eagle, because of improvements in numbers.

In the United States, the bald eagle population has doubled every seven to eight years.

The CITES register has two main sections. The first, most rigorous category has 600 animal and 300 plant species for which all commercial trade is banned except under special circumstances.

The second category, with more than 4,100 animals and 28,000 plant species, allows some international trade but only under permit.

But conservationists have complained that CITES lacks strong enough enforcement powers and depends on the will of member countries to police the trade which many are powerless, or unwilling, to do.

They pointed to the tiger, whose numbers have been reduced by 95 percent in the past century with less than 5,000 thought to be left in the wild, despite being on the CITES list of protected species.

Experts say a specialist Interpol-style unit is needed in Asia to take on the organised gangs backed by tougher penalties for those found to be trading in protected wildlife.

But Wijnstekers said the power of CITES to order a trade suspension for wildlife products from a country has proved effective in the past in making a nation clean up its act.


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