August 16, 2019 / 3:37 PM / a month ago

Sharks, elephants and precious wood in balance at wildlife talks

GENEVA (Reuters) - The fate of mako sharks, African elephants and their ivory, and precious wood used to make musical instruments are on the agenda of member states attending negotiations of the U.N. wildlife watchdog opening on Saturday, officials said.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates the buying and selling of species at risk of extinction around the world, either by imposing outright bans or by requiring permits so that rare animals and plants are not over-harvested.

The 183 states which are signatories of CITES meet in Geneva from Aug 17-28 to consider 56 proposals to expand a legally binding treaty which already covers 36,000 species.

“Poaching and illegal trade in wildlife involving organized crime groups continue to pose a very serious threat to many animal and plant species. And for this reason this will again be a major issue of discussion,” Ben Rensburg, CITES chief for enforcement support, told a news briefing ahead of the consultation which held is held every three years.

Species targeted by wildlife criminals and on the agenda include pangolins - an ant-eating mammal hunted for its huge protective scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine - as well as rhinos, Asian big cats, and cheetahs, he said.

Elsewhere, a global trade in shark fins is driving demand for mako sharks, guitarfishes and wedgefishes and is pushing them to extinction, according to CITES. The European Union and others have proposed that those three types of sharks and rays be listed on appendix II, meaning trade must be legal and sustainable.

CITES first listed African elephants as a species of concern in 1977. The organization then imposed a global ban on ivory sales in 1989 to stem poaching, but allowed African countries to sell stockpiles to Japan in 1999 and in 2008 to China and Japan.

Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are now seeking to open up trade in ivory in certain conditions, according to Tom De Meulenaer, chief of CITES scientific services.

De Meulener said that Southern African countries were arguing that they now manage elephant numbers well.

But 10 countries, including Ivory Coast and Kenya, are seeking to end all trade in ivory, arguing that demand is driving poaching, he added.

The EU and Canada are proposing that musical instruments made of rosewood be exempted from existing CITES controls on precious woods requiring trade permits.

reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by James Drummond

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