The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, CMS (also known as the Bonn Convention) offers vital protection to some of the Earth's most vulnerable species. Migratory species cross geographical and political borders and are biologically dependent on more than one habitat. They are only as secure as the weakest link in the chain of sites they visit throughout their migratory routes. For example, a bird that winters in a well-protected wildlife sanctuary may be at risk because it spends summers in a rapidly deteriorating habitat thousands of kilometres away because the areas it uses as stop-over sites are disappearing, thus making the journey longer and more exhausting or because it passes briefly through a region that permits excessive hunting.
"The Bonn Convention is one of a small family of treaties that guides international action on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which provides the CMS secretariat.
"At a time when complex new issues such as biosafety and the sustainable use of genetic resources are coming onto the agenda, we must remember that the traditional work of conserving individual species and the habitats on which they depend will remain an essential part of our biodiversity toolkit for years and decades to come," he said.
The Bonn Convention is organized around two appendices. Appendix I includes species that are in danger of extinction and thus need strict protection; Appendix II lists species whose "unfavourable conservation status" calls for international agreements to provide for their conservation and management, through co-operation among the countries (Range States) where they occur.
As interest in conservation has grown, so has attention on the Bonn Convention as a tool for improving the status of certain animals at risk. With 40 endangered species listed in 1979, Appendix I has been enlarged to the current list of 76 species. However, this does not mean that the situation is worse now than it was 20 years ago. "On the contrary", said Toepfer, "many of the species that were in a delicate situation in 1979 have recovered and their populations are much healthier now. But we must not lower our guard - even though our knowledge has improved considerably, the threats still persist, and the need for international concerted action is just as great".
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals now boasts 60 member States. These governments will attend the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Cape Town, South Africa, from 10-16 November 1999 to adopt a five-year strategic plan for the Convention. Many other countries and organizations are expected to be present as observers.
Note to Editors
The Bonn Convention provides a general framework within which countries can develop specialized agreements and plans for conserving and managing specific species. So far, these include:
* Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (1995). Many pelican, stork, flamingo, duck, and goose species depend on wetlands in Europe and Africa for at least part of their annual cycle. Under this Agreement, some 117 "Range States" are cooperating to protect more than 170 waterbird species spanning an area of 60 million square kilometres (almost 40% of the Earth's land mass). The Agreement is expected to enter into force in 1999, stimulating Parties to work together on habitat conservation, the management of human activities, research and monitoring, and education and information exchange.
* Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (EUROBATS, 1991). Some 30 bat species throughout Europe are threatened by habitat degradation, disturbances of roost sites, and harmful pesticides. Governments are developing transboundary programmes for habitat protection and improving the coordination of data collection.
* Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS, 1992). These 14 species, of which five are thought to be rare, are the object of joint efforts to reduce pollution, by-catches in fishing nets, disturbances due to recreation and other human activities, and beach strandings.
* Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS, 1996) . Dolphins, porpoises, and other whales in this region are threatened by fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution. The Agreement, which is not yet in force, requires signatories to protect cetaceans by establishing networks of protected areas for feeding, breeding, and calving. They must also enforce legislation to minimize accidental and deliberate catches by vessels under their flag or within their jurisdiction.
* The Wadden Sea Seals Agreement (1990). This agreement between Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands was inspired by a 1988 viral epidemic that reduced the seals' numbers by 60%. A survey in 1996 revealed that the population had returned to its pre-epidemic levels of about 10,000 individuals, but conservation measures are still required.
* Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane (1993 / 1998). This instrument was originally designed to protect the western and central Asian populations, of this magnificent bird on the brink of extinction. In a meeting of the Range States in 1998, it was reviewed and extended to include the more numerous eastern population too, which is to be found in China, and thus provide for the conservation of the species throughout its entire range.
* Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the Slender-billed Curlew (1994). Down to some 200-300 individuals by 1994, Slender-billed Curlews breed in an unknown area in or near the steppes of southwest Siberia. They migrate through Central Asia to their winter grounds in the Middle East. Raising awareness among hunters is one of the strategies promoted by the Memorandum.
For more information contact: Carles Carboneras,
United Nations in Bonn,
tel: (+49-228) 815 2405, fax: (+49-228) 815 2449,
on tel: (+41-22) 917 8242/44, fax: 797 3464,
In Nairobi, contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
on tel: (+254-2) 623292,
on tel: 623084, fax: 623692,
UNEP News Release 1999/74