Reacting to Tuesday's announcement by Lufthansa that it will no longer transport animals captured in the wild for commercial purposes, Mr. Wijnstekers pointed out that the economies and rural communities of many developing countries are highly dependent on natural resources, including wildlife.
"Sustainable trade in wild animals and plants represents a legitimate and vital economic interest for developing countries," he said. "The 153 member governments of CITES have agreed to a strict set of rules for ensuring that this trade is conducted in a way that does not endanger the species involved and that gives poor communities an economic stake in protecting the wildlife that they live with on a daily basis."
According to Wijnstekers, a trend toward bans would undermine both animal welfare and conservation efforts by pushing shipments onto second-tier airlines and charters, where conditions may be worse and flight times longer. When trade is conducted by quality commercial airlines, the Live Animal Regulations set down by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) specifying ventilation, space, packing, feeding and other conditions minimize the animals' discomfort.
Where these guidelines are not implemented or are proven to be insufficient, IATA and CITES are required to take steps to improve the situation. However, as studies in a number of European countries have shown, air transport mortality rates are in fact low.
"Photographs of dead and suffering animals that have been smuggled via airlines or ships are distressing and shocking," said Mr. Wijnstekers. "But this illegal trade should not be confused with the regulated shipments that are now being barred from leading airlines."
CITES was adopted in 1973 in response to concerns about the overexploitation of many vulnerable species as a result of unregulated international trade. The Convention gives producer and consumer countries joint responsibility for managing wildlife sustainably and preventing illegal trade.
CITES prohibits commercial international trade (and regulates non-commercial trade) in plant and animal species that are threatened with extinction and that are or may be affected by trade. These species are listed in Appendix I, which includes the snow leopard, the tiger, and other big cats; many rare primates such as the chimpanzee and the gorilla; almost all large parrots; most crocodiles; all sea turtles; slipper orchids and many cacti - in total about 800 species.
The Convention uses a system of permits to ensure that international trade is sustainable for many species that are not threatened with extinction but could become so if trade were not strictly regulated. These species are listed in Appendix II, which includes all other big cats, primates, cetaceans, parrots, crocodiles, cacti and orchids, plus several carnivorous plants -in total about 30,000 species. To obtain the necessary permits for export, it must be shown that trade is not detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.
A third Appendix includes species subject to regulation within a particular country and for which the cooperation of other member countries is sought to help regulate trade.
As trade impacts and population levels change, animal or plant species can be added to the CITES Appendices, deleted from them, or transferred from one Appendix to another. These decisions are to be based on the best biological information available and the likely effectiveness of different types of regulation.
Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242, +41-79-4091528 (cell), or firstname.lastname@example.org. See also the CITES web site at www.cites.org
UNEP News Release 01/50