By Daniel Cressey
If you go into a bar in Bangkok tonight, don’t be surprised if you find it full of celebrating conservationists.
An international meeting that takes place every three years to regulate trade in endangered animals and plants has bolstered protection for a number of species. Besides agreeing to clamp down more strongly on the trade in ivory and rhino horn, the states party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) took the unprecedented step of granting protection to sharks and various species of tropical timber tree in their final vote today.
Before the conference, researchers across the world had warned of the dire state of African elephant populations, which are currently being decimated by rampant poaching. Many urged CITES to mandate forensic examination of large seizures of illegal ivory. Tusks' DNA can be used to trace their origins, so that law enforcement can be directed to poaching ‘hot spots’. The conference of the parties (COP) to the convention in Bangkok declared that such testing should be mandatory for large-scale seizures.
Tom Milliken, who works for the wildlife-trade monitoring group TRAFFIC, which is headquartered in Cambridge, UK and has been heavily involved in the debates about elephant poaching, said, “I think this is one of the best COPs I’ve been to, and I’ve been to 14 of them.”
“I was ecstatic because it was the first time that the entire COP acknowledged the value and need for DNA testing for the origin of poached ivory. All my hard work had finally paid off,” says Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the driving forces behind the push for forensic examinations of elephant ivory.
Curbing ivory demand
The delegates also approved measures to curb demand for ivory, which could include public-awareness campaigns in countries driving the trade, such as China. Before the meeting, Tanzania removed one impediment to the discussion by withdrawing its proposal to sell stockpiled ivory, a move welcomed by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a researcher at the University of Oxford, UK and the founder of the charity Save the Elephants, based in Nairobi. More....