The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is calling for global attention to the impacts of unsustained trade in marine species, reptiles, amphibians and plants as it submits its final proposals and papers to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international agreement designed to control and regulate global trade in certain wild animals and plants that are or may become threatened with extinction due to commercial trade.
These proposals and papers will be considered during the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) to CITES in Nairobi, Kenya, in April 2000. Currently, 150 nations including the U.S. belong to CITES. Members meet approximately every two years to discuss improvements to the treaty and to review trade protections for wildlife.
A CITES-regulated species may be included in one of three appendices to the Convention. Any listing of a species in either Appendix I or II requires approval by two thirds of the CITES party countries. Appendix I includes species where it is determined that any commercial trade is detrimental to the survival of the species. Therefore, no commercial trade is allowed in Appendix I species. Noncommercial trade in such species is allowed if it does not jeopardize the species^ survival in the wild. Permits are required for the exportation and importation of Appendix I species. Appendix II includes species where it has been determined that commercial trade may be detrimental to the survival of the species if that trade is not strictly controlled. Trade in these species is regulated through the use of export permits.
Appendix III includes species where there is some question as to the potential negative impact of commercial trade. Permits are used to monitor trade in native species. Any member may place a native species on Appendix III.
WHALE SHARKS AND GREAT WHITE SHARKS
The future of many of the world^s best known marine species is uncertain due to commercial exploitation. The impact of this trade upon the world^s shark populations has been especially devastating. Sharks are more vulnerable than most other fish because of their delayed maturation, relatively low rate of reproduction, and their longevity. To help ensure the health of wild sharks, the U.S. is proposing two species for CITES protection. The whale shark, the world^s largest fish, is found in tropical and warm temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Little is known about its population size; however, in some areas, local populations have decreased dramatically, reducing catch and driving up prices. This shark is fished for its fins and meat throughout Asia and the market for fresh whale shark meat continues to expand. Because the U.S. has determined that the survival of this species in the wild is uncertain, it is proposing to list the whale shark in Appendix II. The Great White shark is also in trouble. This shark is found throughout the temperate and subtropical oceans of the northern and southern hemispheres. In North American waters it is sometimes found in the western North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Florida, and in the summer in the waters around the New York City metropolitan area. It has also been reported in the Bahamas, Cuba, the northern Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Great White sharks are exploited worldwide to supply the Asian medicinal and food market and the curio trade. Shark teeth and jaws command high prices in the Asian marketplace. Long-line and gillnet fishing also contribute to this grave situation.
In 1997, the U.S. Department of Commerce^s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) prohibited all targeted fishing for this shark. In addition, Great White sharks are protected in the U.S. states of California and Florida, in the Maldive Islands (Indian Ocean) and in the country of Namibia. Australia and the U.S. collected scientific and trade information on the status of this fish which suggests that Great White shark populations are declining and that all commercial trade should be prohibited. The U.S. and Australia are co-sponsoring a proposal to include this species in Appendix I.
SEAHORSES The U.S. and Australia are also seeking a discussion on the conservation of, and trade in the more than 200 types of seahorses and related species. Seahorse populations are believed to have declined worldwide, but more complete information is needed about their status before moving forward with a proposal to add seahorses to a specific appendix.
"For centuries we have been intrigued by these graceful sea creatures," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark said. "Unfortunately, our fascination may well be threatening their very survival."
Seahorses inhabit shallow coastal waters, especially seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangrove swamps. Their habitat is often located in heavily populated areas and subject to pollution and degradation. Seahorses are vulnerable to over-harvesting for curios and aquarium specimens. The greatest demand for seahorses is for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Eastern medicinal use dates back to at least the 14th century, while early Greek and Roman herbalists mention the use of seahorses as a cure for rabies. Although Western medicine no longer uses seahorses, demand in the East has never been greater.
To date, relatively little field work has been conducted to gather information on the health of wild populations. While there has been some valuable independent research undertaken, additional studies are needed to provide answers about the impact of trade on these fragile species.
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN The U.S. has also worked with the country of Georgia in gathering information on the Black Sea/Sea of Azov population of the Bottlenose dolphin. This population is isolated from other Bottlenose dolphins found in the Mediterranean Sea and other waters. The dolphin^s habitat is highly contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Also, there has been a decrease in the dolphins^ prey species due to overfishing.
Trade in this species is primarily for live animals for exhibition. Although this does not involve a huge number of animals globally, the Black Sea/Sea of Azov is so depleted that even the removal of a small number of dolphins is critical. Currently included in Appendix II, the continuing international trade has led the U.S. and Georgia to propose including this rare species in Appendix I.
WHALES To strengthen the global conservation and management of whales, the United States is submitting a discussion paper which calls for continued cooperation between the CITES parties and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC is responsible for the conservation and management of whales; CITES regulates whales and whale products in international trade. Although some countries maintain that stocks are sufficient to sustain commercial trade, the U.S. contends that the health of the world^s whale population is precarious and continued cooperation between CITES and the IWC is necessary.
SEA BIRDS AND GLOBAL FISHERIES
The U.S. is also submitting a discussion paper which calls for closer cooperation between CITES parties and member organizations of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As part of its focus on marine issues, the U.S. is asking CITES to work with the FAO in the conservation of sea birds, sharks and global fisheries and in reviewing the CITES criteria for listing marine species.
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS While environmental factors recently have been highly publicized in declines of reptiles and amphibians around the world, overharvest for human food and the pet trade is contributing to this decline. This trade impacts both U.S. and foreign species. Therefore, the U.S. is proposing several of these species for protection against trade.
"The legal international trade in reptiles has increased significantly in the last decade," Clark said. "At the same time, reptile smuggling has become a high-profit criminal enterprise which we cannot tolerate." According to statistics collected by the Service, in 1997 the United States imported 1.8 million live reptiles worth more than $7 million and exported 9.7 million valued at more than $13.2 million.
The timber rattlesnake, a U.S. species, is proposed for listing in Appendix II. Although found in 31 states including New Hampshire, Minnesota, Texas and Florida, the species has declined greatly throughout much of its range. In most northern states only remnant populations survive and the timber rattlesnake has completely disappeared from Maine and Rhode Island. It is, in fact, listed as endangered by many northern states. Ongoing habitat loss, highway mortality, intentional killing and collection for the domestic and international pet trade, for meat and for the skin trade, are taking their toll on wild populations. In addition, this snake does not breed until eight or nine years of age and may produce young only every two or three years.
In addition to its proposals to protect certain reptiles and amphibians, the U.S. is asking the CITES parties to make it easier to move samples of crocodilian skins across international borders for use in trade shows. If approved, this would help foster sustainable use of American alligators and some other well-managed species of caimans and crocodiles from Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Mantella frogs are found only on the island of Madagascar, located off Africa^s east coast. These colorful frogs are popular as pets and are heavily collected. In addition, wild populations continue to decline due to habitat loss and deforestation. The U.S., the Netherlands and Madagascar are seeking Appendix II protection for all of the approximately 15 unlisted Mantella species.
SONORAN GREEN TOAD The Sonoran green toad occurs in portions of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico and has been listed in Appendix II since 1975. Today its population is stable and much of its habitat is located in protected areas such as national monuments and military lands. In addition, there is little or no international trade in this amphibian. Therefore, the U.S. does not believe it needs to receive CITES protection and is proposing to delete it from Appendix II.
The spotted turtle is another North American species which the U.S. considers to be in need of Appendix II protection. Native to southern Ontario, Canada, and in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Upper Midwest U.S., the species^ survival is threatened by over-collection; habitat fragmentation, alteration, and destruction; as well as road mortality. Human population growth and development, the disappearance of wetlands and pollution are some of the factors contributing to population declines. Also, illegal commercial collecting threatens the turtle^s survival. From 1995 through 1997, substantial numbers of spotted turtles were exported from the United States.
SOUTHEAST ASIAN BOX TURTLE
The United States and Germany are co-sponsoring a proposal to include the nine species of Southeast Asian box turtles in Appendix II. Many of these species are heavily exploited for food throughout southeast Asia. After consulting with other CITES countries where the turtles are found such as Viet Nam, Nepal, Cambodia, China and Bangladesh, the U.S. and Germany determined that threats to the survival of these turtles warranted their protection.
PANCAKE TORTOISE Along with Kenya, the U.S. is seeking to transfer the Pancake tortoise from Appendix II to Appendix I. Native to Kenya and Tanzania, this tortoise^s habitat is limited to thorn-scrub and savannah areas with rock crevices and outcroppings. The species was listed in Appendix II in 1975 and in 1981 Kenya banned its trade. Immediately following the ban, there was a marked increase in exports from Tanzania. Recent surveys indicate that pancake tortoise numbers have become depleted in much of its Tanzanian range. Increasing collection, the turtle^s low reproductive rate and its habitat requirements all factor into this decline.
EASTERN HEMISPHERE TARANTULAS Tarantulas are much desired as pets. When Western Hemisphere tarantulas were listed in Appendix II in 1994, the commercial pet trade shifted to the 11 known species of Eastern Hemisphere tarantulas. Found only in the forests of southern India and Sri Lanka, the low reproductive rate of the tarantulas cannot keep up with the current demand for pets. Captive breeding is rarely successful and not enough spiders are produced to satisfy the trade. In addition, their native forest habitat is disappearing because of deforestation. Sri Lanka and the U.S. believe that all Eastern hemisphere tarantula species also should be included in Appendix II.
ASIAN PANGOLINS Working together, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and the U.S. are asking that the three species of Asian pangolins, the Chinese, Indian and Malay, be transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I because these mammals, which resemble anteaters, are heavily traded and little information is available on the health of wild populations. Their scales are used in traditional Asian medicines and their skins are used for boots. Pangolins are also traded for food.
The U.S. is proposing that all musk deer species currently listed in Appendix II be transferred to Appendix I. Ranging from eastern Siberia through Manchuria and central China to regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, musk deer populations continue to dwindle due to widespread poaching for international trade. Moreover, changes in and loss of its forest and scrub-forest habitat present serious threats to the deer^s survival. The U.S. is co-sponsoring this proposal with India and Nepal.
NORTH AMERICAN GYRFALCON
The gyrfalcon is a raptor found in the arctic and subarctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Europe and Asia. The North American population of the gyrfalcon has remained stable since surveys began more than 20 years ago. Because the Service has no evidence that this particular population has ever been threatened due to habitat loss, nest robbing or trade, the U.S. is proposing to transfer the North American gyrfalcon from Appendix I to Appendix II with a special restriction. In the past, European countries have been concerned about enforcement problems for their native gyrfalcon populations if the North American raptors were transferred to Appendix II. Although the U.S. has determined that trade in the North American bird does not appear to pose a significant threat to the survival of the species, it is asking for a provision which will continue the ban on trade in all wild gyrfalcons. TREES AND PLANTS
The U.S. is also seeking stronger protection for a valuable timber species, Holywood lignum-vitae. Once abundant in the Florida Keys, the West Indies and Central America, deforestation and felling for timber has contributed to the tree^s extirpation in most of its Caribbean island habitat. Remaining populations in Central America and Florida are confined to restricted areas and are threatened by habitat loss and exploitation. To help ensure the health of the remaining populations of this rare tree, the U.S. is requesting that it be transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I. THE WHITE WICKY The U.S. is proposing to remove the White wicky, a plant related to mountain laurel and native to the coastal areas of North and South Carolina, from CITES protection. Currently listed in Appendix II, new information confirms that, in recent years, there has been no international trade in the species. Since the main threats to the White wicky come from habitat loss due to land development, conversion to agriculture or production forestry and fire suppression rather than from trade, CITES protection would not affect the survival of wild populations.
(To comment on this topic in the Earth Forum message area, read the CITES Meeting discussion.)