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CITES agrees to limited trade in ivory, regulated trade in caviar, and continued ban on trade in whales

Harare, 20 June 1997  - Members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) concluded their two-week session here today after deciding to permit some highly controlled exports of elephant ivory. 

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The transfer of the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe from Appendix I (which completely bans commercial trade) to Appendix II (which allows international trade that is strictly managed) means that some ivory trade may resume in 1999 for the first time since 1989, when it was banned by governments. 

However, this trade will be tightly regulated through strict international verification and control procedures. If certain conditions are met, experimental quotas are to be authorized allowing each country to export to Japan a specified quantity from their existing legal ivory stocks. 

"This decision acknowledges the tremendous progress that the countries of southern Africa have made in elephant conservation," says Ambassador T.J. Jokonya of Zimbabwe, the meeting's Chairman. "More broadly, it reflects the international community's recognition that the sustainable use of wildlife can build support among local communities for conservation while directly raising funds for protecting endangered species." 

Meanwhile, proposals by Japan and Norway to transfer to Appendix II five populations of grey, minke, and Bryde's whales from Appendix I to Appendix II were not accepted. The debate centred on scientific arguments, the issue of sustainable use, possible enforcement problems, the precautionary principle, and the existence of a commercial whaling moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. 

The whole family of sturgeons, the basis of the multi-million-dollar caviar industry, was added to Appendix II. Their numbers have been dangerously depleted in recent years owing to pollution as well as overfishing, much of it illegal. Five sturgeon species threatened by trade plus 18 look-alike species were listed. This will give the sturgeon range States (including the Russian Federation, Iran, and other States bordering the Caspian Sea) the tools and international support they will need to regulate the international caviar trade and ensure that it is sustainable. 

Another proposal that could not be adopted by consensus but was instead put to a vote was a proposal to transfer the Cuban population of hawksbill turtles from Appendix I to II, which was rejected. Proposals to include big-leaf mahogany in Appendix II and to transfer Asian and European populations of the brown bear to Appendix I were also rejected. Altogether some 75 proposals to amend the CITES appendices were considered. 

When a species becomes endangered through habitat destruction, pollution, trade and other forces, this failure of human stewardship of the earth's natural resources must be corrected. CITES is one important mechanism for doing this. It allows governments to either strictly regulate international trade in threatened species of plants and animals via an Appendix-II listing or to ban all international commercial trade in species threated with extinction via inclusion in Appendix I. 

As the impact of trade and other forces on populations of a wildlife species increases or decreases, it can be added to the CITES appendices, removed from them, or shifted from one appendix to another. These decisions are based on the best biological information available and an analysis of how different types of protection can affect specific populations. 

A species from I to II does not mean that protection for this species has been "downgraded". Rather, it is a sign of success because that species's numbers have grown to the point where trade may be possible. In addition, by allowing a species to be commercially traded at sustainable levels, Appendix II status can actually improve protection by giving local people a greater stake in the species's survival. It can also attract greater international financial and practical support from the international community for improving national enforcement and conservation measures. 

"Although best known as a conservation treaty dealing with elephants, rhinoceroses, and other charismatic animals, CITES is also a trade treaty that happens to cover endangered plants and animals," says Izgrev Topkov, Secretary-General of CITES. "While banning commercial international trade to ensure a species's survival will remain an important part of our toolkit, the fact that many commercially valuable species are being harvested at unsustainable rates increases the need for managed trade regimes that lead to a balanced long-term relationship between people and the natural world." 

While enforcement issues will remain central to the success of CITES, there is also a growing recognition of the need for greater capacity-building. In the case of trade bans, governments must be able to enact and maintain effective conservation and policing measures at the national level. Managed trade requires even more complex skills, including an extensive capacity to assess population trends, determine appropriate trade limits, and monitor exports. This additional burden on developing countries must be addressed for Appendix II listings to be effective. 

CITES has 139 member countries and is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme. The meeting ending today was officially known as the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. 

Note to journalists: The CITES press office can be contacted in Harare at 
fax +263-4-7808525. 
After 21 June, please contact the Capacity Building Unit in Geneva at tel. 
+41-22 9799139,
fax (+41-22) 7973417, 

(For CITES debate - see: ) 

    CITES agrees to limited trade in ivory, regulated trade in caviar, and continued ban on trade in whales 
Monday 11 Aug 1997
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