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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Global Conference Adopts Major Species Protections

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that many imperiled species have made significant gains in trade protections at the internation wildlife conference winding down Wednesday.

The United States is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a worldwide treaty enacted in 1975. Every two to three years a Conference of Parties (CoP) is held to review changes to and implementation of wildlife trade protections agreed to by the 182 member countries and the European Union. This year, the seventeenth CoP is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from Sept. 24 through Oct. 5. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been designated to implement the CITES provisions and report to the CoP on U.S. efforts to curb illegal trade in at-risk species.

African grey parrots, which have been decimated in the wild due to the pet trade, now have increased global protections, the Service said. "Increased CITES protections come not a minute too soon for African grey parrots," USFWS Director Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. delegation to the treaty's 17th Conference of the Parties, said. "During the past 25 years, more than 1.5 million wild African greys have been taken from their native habitats, making them one of the most traded of all CITES-listed parrots." The U.S. contingent worked with a coalition of countries to gain support for the Appendix I listing proposal, the strongest level of protection. The proposal was adopted by a vote of 95 countries for it, 35 against, and five abstaining. Changes to Appendix I and Appendix II listings must be proposed at a CoP meeting and pass by a two-thirds majority vote. The parrot vote is expected to be finalized at the end of the conference, the agency said.

Eight species of pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are also proposed for Appendix I protections. Half the species are found in Asia and the others are found in Africa. The scales are made of keratin, which also forms fingernails and rhino horns. They are used in traditional Asian medicine, as luxury food in East Asia and as bushmeat and traditional medicine in Africa. "We reached out to our CITES counterparts in many other nations to show that the science supported an Appendix-I listing, and we have supported pangolin range states in their international collaborations to develop conservation plans, including policy actions under CITES. With widespread agreement among range states that an Appendix-I listing is warranted, we applaud the leadership of the many countries that helped us get there," Ashe said. "We are confident that the CITES Parties will uphold these recommendations."

Imperiled reptiles, including 21 species of African pygmy chameleon and freshwater turtles and tortoises, which are also heavily impacted by the pet trade, are also slated for increased protections.


Six African and Middle Eastern softshell turtle species were proposed for Appendix II protections and adopted by consensus. The proposal was co-sponsored by the United States, which has recently moved to protect four U.S. freshwater turtles and a desert mud turtle under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The U.S. had previously collaborated with international partners to adopt CITES protection for Asian freshwater turtles in 2013. In addition to depletion by the pet trade, freshwater turtles are also prized in Asia for food and for use in traditional medicine.

"Today's actions bring the majority of the world's softshell turtles under the umbrella of CITES, and we're proud to work with a coalition of countries committed to reversing the trend of over-exploitation that has depleted wild turtle populations," Ash said Monday. H The U.S. also co-sponsored a proposal to list the 21 species of pygmy chameleons submitted by the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Kenya and Nigeria. The proposal was adopted by consensus, and, if adopted, will require traders to have a permit before shipping them overseas.

"These Appendix II listings will close a gap in global protections for softshell turtles and ensure that trade in African pygmy chameleons is legal and sustainable. Science supports these listings, and we are confident the CITES parties will uphold these decisions," Ashe said.

Marine species were also featured in deliberations at the conference, with chambered nautiluses, devil rays and sharks receiving special focus. "Nearly 1 million nautiluses have been imported into the United States in the last decade. We have a significant role in this trade and a responsibility to ensure it does not drive these beautiful creatures to extinction," Ashe said. "Existing protections for nautiluses are poorly enforced and implemented, which has led to overharvest and population declines. CITES protections will strengthen range States' ability to address illegal trade in these species." The USFWS has recently taken the first step in protecting the nautilus under the ESA.

Devil rays are another species that is desired in the Asian markets for their gill rakers, which are appendages used for breathing. There is a lack of local or international measure to regulate a sustainable harvest, but CITES protections have now been proposed and are awaiting final approval at the end of the conference. "NOAA applauds CITES parties and the global community for taking steps at CoP17 towards ensuring that the international trade in key marine species is legal and sustainable," Eileen Sobeck, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, said. "We are particularly pleased to see that the trade in chambered nautiluses and devil rays, species that are extremely vulnerable, largely unregulated, and at risk of population decline due to international demand, will now be regulated." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for listing at-risk marine species under the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, according to the USFWS' report.

The NMFS has recently taken steps to list the white tip shark and six South American sharks and shark-family species under the ESA. At CITES, the United States strongly supports proposals by the Maldives and Sri Lanka to include silky and thresher sharks for Appendix II protections, according to the USFWS' report. H Another key CITES victory was an agreement with Kenya and other African elephant range states to close their domestic ivory markets. Although the United States and China have taken steps to curb ivory imports, the trade in domestic markets in Africa creates a loophole for the laundering of illegal ivory. "Elephants are protected under CITES, but until each country with a domestic ivory market takes responsibility by enacting and enforcing strong laws to end the commercial trade in ivory, we won't be able to staunch the hemorrhaging of ivory out of Africa into markets around the world," Ashe said. "Ivory should not have value unless it's attached to an elephant."

Pangolin photo credit: Piekfrosch

Parrot photo credit: Quartl

Chameleon photo credit: Keultjes

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