Wildlife conference boosts protection for sharks, turtles

Panama Wildlife Conference
Photo credit AP News/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

PANAMA CITY (AP) — An international wildlife conference moved to enact some of the most significant protection for shark species targeted in the fin trade and scores of turtles, lizards and frogs whose numbers are being decimated by the pet trade.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known by its initials as CITES, ended Friday in Panama. In a record for the conference, delegates enacted protections for over 500 species. The United Nations wildlife conference also rejected a proposal to reopen the ivory trade. An ivory ban was enacted in 1989.

“The Parties to CITES are fully aware of their responsibility to address the biodiversity loss crisis by taking action to ensure that the international trade in wildlife is sustainable, legal and traceable," Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said in a statement.

“Trade underpins human well-being, but we need to mend our relationship with nature,” she said. "The decisions coming from this meeting will serve the interests of conservation and wildlife trade, that doesn’t threaten the existence of species of plants and animals in the wild, for future generations.”

The international wildlife trade treaty, which was adopted 49 years ago in Washington, D.C., has been praised for helping stem the illegal and unsustainable trade in ivory and rhino horns as well as in whales and sea turtles.

But it has come under fire for its limitations, including its reliance on cash-strapped developing countries to combat illegal trade that’s become a lucrative $10 billion-a-year business.

One of the biggest achievement this year was increasing or providing protection for more than 90 shark species, including 54 species of requiem sharks, the bonnethead shark, three species of hammerhead shark and 37 species of guitarfish. Many had never before had trade protection and now, under Appendix II, the commercial trade will be regulated.

Global shark populations are declining, with annual deaths due to fisheries reaching about 100 million. The sharks are sought mostly for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup, a popular delicacy in China and elsewhere in Asia.

“These species are threatened by the unsustainable and unregulated fisheries that supply the international trade in their meat and fins, which has driven extensive population declines," Rebecca Regnery, senior director for wildlife at Humane Society International, said in a statement. "With Appendix II listing, CITES Parties can allow trade only if it is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild, giving these species help they need to recover from over-exploitation.”

The conference also enacted protections for dozens of species of turtle, lizard and 160 amphibian species including glass frogs whose translucent skin made them a favorite in the pet trade. Several species of song birds also got trade protection as well as 150 tree species.

“Already under immense ecological pressure resulting from habitat loss, climate change and disease, the unmanaged and growing trade in glass frogs is exacerbating the already existing threats to the species," Danielle Kessler, the U.S. country director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement. “This trade must be regulated and limited to sustainable levels to avoid compounding the multiple threats they already face.”

But some of the more controversial proposals weren't approved.

Some African countries and conservation groups had hoped to ban the trade in hippos. But it was opposed by the European Union, some African countries and several conservation groups, who argue many countries have healthy hippo populations and that trade isn’t a factor in their decline.

“Globally cherished mammals such as rhinos, hippos, elephants and leopards didn’t receive increased protections at this meeting while a bunch of wonderful weirdos won conservation victories,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “In the midst of a heart-wrenching extinction crisis, we need global agreement to fight for all species, even when it’s contentious."

Featured Image Photo Credit: AP News/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi