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Alarming decline of migratory animals

Cape Town/Nairobi, 19 November 1999 - Elephant populations in western and central Africa are still in decline. Sturgeons, important for their caviar production, are in dramatic decline because of over-exploitation, pollution of rivers and coastal marine areas and other man-made impacts.

Antelopes have almost been eradicated over the last 30 years in the northern African arid areas larger in size than the Australian continent.

The beautiful Houbara bustards, birds well adapted to steppe and desert areas and traditional prey for hunting with falcons will soon disappear from Asia and Africa if no strong action is taken. Albatrosses and other seabirds, dolphins and marine turtles are victims of the so-called by-catch in fisheries activities.

These are only some of the alarming facts which governmental and non-governmental experts from 100 countries discussed at a global conference in Cape Town, South Africa from 6 to 16 November to ensure better protection for certain migratory species of wild animals at the occasion of the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

Its main purpose is to foster protection of migratory species across national frontiers - "travellers without a passport" as they were called by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme based in Nairobi, Kenya. As stated in Mr. Toepfer's message to the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki - "they are paramount symbols of the common natural heritage which combine the ecosystems of countries, even continents". This message was carried by emissary eagles from Germany and Poland, tracked by satellite to monitor their migratory routes. A daily updated map of the eagles flight is accessible on the Internet until April 2000 on the CMS homepage at

The conference decided by consensus that seven migratory species (e.g. six rare birds and the manatees in the marine areas of Panama and Honduras) be listed as endangered. This will entail their strict legal protection including their habitat, by their Range States. For about thirty other endangered species concerted actions by the Range States were also agreed upon which will result in increased protection measures in addition to national measures and transboundary projects.

A prominent event at the conference was the signing by an additional seven Range States of an Agreement on the Conservation of Marine Turtles on the Atlantic Coast of Africa, led by the Nigerian Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ima Okopido.

Another important decision relates to the more than thirty species currently listed as species which warrant international transboundary coordination and concerted action. That decision will be subject to the development of Agreements and action plans among the respective Range States. These will include transboundary research, monitoring, conservation actions, harmonization of legislation, capacity-building and public awareness-raising activities. Amongst these species are listed dolphins in South-East Asia, seven petrel species, twelve sturgeon species of various regions and the Whale Shark.

The conference also addressed the conservation needs of the Western and Central populations of the African Elephant, the Sahelo-Saharan Antelopes, the severely affected Houbara bustards, Albatrosses, and Marine Turtles. Intensive work will follow to translate these decisions into actions.

Over and above goodwill decisions, the wildlife experts, although under severe pressure from their finance ministries at home, agreed to invest about U.S. $ 1 million in a two year project plan for the benefit of the species concerned and their habitats, but with real benefits in the longer term to the local communities in the respective countries.

The Secretariat of the Bonn Convention will be strengthened by a modest increase in its personnel capacity and by the integration of three regional Agreements Secretariats within the Bonn Convention Secretariat, effective early 2000/2001. This will increase synergies between the Secretariats and the Bonn Convention.

The next Conference of the Parties will be held in the Convention's home city, Bonn, Germany in 2002.

Background Information: To date, more than eighty wild animal species enjoy the strict protection offered by the Bonn Convention through being listed under Appendix I. Examples include many whale species, dolphins, Monk Seals, bats, the Snow Leopard, turtles and many species of birds, such as the Osprey and the Siberian Crane. Newly added to the list is the manatee population along the Atlantic Coast of Honduras and Panama. This vegetarian marine mammal was so intensively hunted in the past that today it is extremely endangered. Because national protection alone is not enough and the habitats of the manatee are so polluted and degraded, Panama has proposed the species for listing under Appendix I.

For less endangered species (Appendix II) the Convention requires specially tailored measures and transboundary regional Agreements. They aim to improve or maintain their conservation status through agreed research, protected areas, public education, legislation and mutual assistance. At the suggestion of the Philippines, the whale shark as well as four species of dolphin have been added to Appendix II.

The most comprehensive of the Agreements to date is the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) which has just held its First Meeting in Cape Town at the invitation of the Netherlands. It presently embraces 117 Range States covering 60,000,000 square kilometres and 172 species, such as the White Stork, pelicans, flamingoes and endangered ducks, which are dependent on intact wetlands. "Migratory birds do not just require protection in their breeding and wintering grounds..." says CMS Executive Secretary Arnulf Mueller-Helmbrecht, "...but also in their resting places and along their migration routes."

AEWA is regarded as an essential instrument for the conservation of waterbirds on their migration routes, for the 21st century. According to Dr. Toepfer, "One should bear in mind, that migratory birds have evolved in the course of the last 200 million years. A study carried out by the Max Planck Society has established that over the past 25 years, the number of birds migrating between Europe and Africa has declined by 1 per cent per annum". He concludes "... an alarming thought that these species could become extinct in the next 100-200 years ".

In addition to existing Agreements (Protection of bats in Europe, Seals of the Wadden Sea, small cetaceans of the North and Baltic Seas, cetaceans of the Mediterranean and Black Seas), future measures are to be taken for the protection of albatrosses and petrels.
According to Australian data the birds are particularly threatened in the Southern Hemisphere by long-line fisheries. They swallow the bait which is not intended for them and they die tragically. The casting of fishing lines at night would save many of the marine birds from by-catch. "At least 250,000 albatrosses and petrels have been killed in the past three years " claims an expert from BirdLife International, and continues... " these proud gliders are (therefore) extremely endangered ".

In this context the delegates demanded in a resolution that through a substantial reduction of by-catch from countries with fishing fleets, other seabirds, dolphins and marine turtles would equally benefit from an implementation of this resolution.

For further information please address:
A. Muller-Helmbrecht,
UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Martin-Luther-King-Str. 8, D-53175 Bonn, Germany,
Tel.: +49 228-815 24-02/-09/-10; Fax: +49 228-815 24-49;
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel.: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692;

UNEP News Release 1999/129

Thursday 18 Nov 1999
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