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Dirty Politics At Endangered Species Meet

by Judith Achieng

Pressure from the U.S. and Japan to sell their votes
(IPS) NAIROBI -- Delegates attending the ongoing United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi have accused "rich nations" of buying votes from developing countries.

Japan and Norway, both whaling nations, are being accused of buying votes from poor African countries with promises of aid packages.

They are also being accused of trading votes with African countries who want to trade in ivory.

"They even bought the West Africans, who we thought were our friends," Nehemiah Rotich, Kenya Wildlife Services director, told IPS.

Norway wants to downgrade Minke whales so it can resume commercial trade in the species. And four southern African countries are pressing for international trade in ivory to be reopened.

Japan, a large consumer of whale meat and blubber, supports Norway's proposal to downgrade whales from CITES Appendix I of most endangered species to Appendix II, which allows limited trade.

The two countries are being opposed by European Union countries, which have indicated that they will coordinate their votes to oppose a resumption whaling.

According to animal rights organizations, under a trade-off, Norway and Japan would support elephant hunting, sought by southern African countries, in return for votes to support downgrading whales.

"It is quite clear that this is a cynical tradeoff. Norway is supporting the trade of ivory to get enough whale votes," says Kurt Oddekavl, who runs NMF (Norges Miljoevernforbund), a Norwegian environmental organization.

Whales were listed on the CITES Appendix I in 1984, and attempts to downgrade by the two countries have been unsuccessful since 1986.

Southern African countries have presented a number of proposals requesting the downgrading of elephants from Appendix I of most endangered species to Appendix II, which allows limited international trade.

The countries -- Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia -- argue that their elephant populations are abundant and that they need to sell their ivory to sustain poor communities on the peripheries of wildlife parks.

Kenya and India are opposed to any resumption in the ivory trade until an efficient monitoring system has been put in place to stem the poaching of elephants.

On April 11, some Kenyans held an all-night vigil to draw attention to the plight of their elephant population, which has been dwindling as a result of poaching.

West African delegates have refused to comment on their position. "We have prepared a common position as West Africans but we cannot say anything about it yet," Mali's Alpha Aly Maiga told IPS.

Although the final status of the species will eventually be determined through a secret ballot, some delegates from Third World countries have complained of pressure from the U.S. and Japan to sell their votes with promises of bilateral benefits.

Europe is also opposed to a resumption of the ivory trade. "The European Commission continues to support the existing ban on the international trade in ivory, to conserve the African elephant," EU delegation head and environmental secretary Christopher Bail told journalists here.

"But it urges African countries to agree on a common position to promote sustainable management systems for the elephants, as well as for the better use of wildlife resources," he said.

Japan says its position to reopen trade in ivory, turtles and whales is based on scientific evidence
Japan has been at the center of controversy at the CITES meeting, for being the largest destination of products based on endangered species -- such as ivory, tortoise shells, bear gall bladders, used in traditional medicines, and whale meat.

A number of conservation groups have accused Japan of pursuing commercial interests in endangered species at the expense of the environment.

Japan, however, insists that its appetite for these products is based on age-old traditions which demand the use of certain natural resources for its population of about 120 million people.

Japan says its position to reopen trade in ivory, turtles and whales is based on scientific evidence that their populations are no longer in danger of extinction.

"We believe that highly endangered species should be protected and species with abundant populations should be utilized sustainably," said a Japanese delegate.

Meanwhile, Latin American countries have rallied behind Cuba's proposal to downgrade sea turtles in its territorial waters, in a move many see as an attempt to thwart the U.S. isolation strategy against the communist country.

Cuba's proposal is opposed by a number of its Caribbean neighbors and the United States, which claim that the turtles in Cuban waters are migratory species and are a shared resource.

Carlos Marzal, who heads the intergovernmental delegation from 14 Latin American countries, has denied political motivation in its support for Japan's proposals on turtles, whales and elephants.

"Japan is supporting its proposals with science. The others don't have science. They have emotions," he told IPS.

Marzal, however, admits that his group is under pressure from the U.S. to vote against the Cuban proposal on sea turtles.

"I don't think the U.S. is opposing the Cuban proposal on a political basis, but on the basis of science," says Pamela Plonkin of the U.S.-based Center for Marine Research.

"There is no such thing as Cuban turtles. If this proposal goes through, it will be a bad precedent for all endangered species," she told IPS.

Others, like Selby Remy from Seychelles, say with all the political issues involved, the outcome of the CITES meeting remains unpredictable.

"It comes down to the ballot, it is difficult to say anything because positions keep changing," he said.

The meeting is seeking to revise the status and set new rules on endangered animal and plant species around the world.

Adopted in 1973, CITES, has been acting as the international body which regulates international trade of flora and fauna through a system of permits and certificates before the species leave a country.

The 151-member Geneva-based body has listed endangered species in its appendices I, II and III, limiting trade in relation to the species' population status.

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Albion Monitor April 17, 2000 (

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