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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood speaks with Reuters correspondent Kieran Murray about this week's meeting of the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species. Conservationists and representatives from 150 nations are converging in Nairobi, Kenya, to debate regulations on buying and selling products everything from elephant tusks to medicinal plants.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Elephant tusks, whale meat, and turtle shells. These are some of the forbidden products from endangered animals. This week Nairobi, Kenya, hosts diplomats from 150 countries to decide if these and other plant and animal products should be bought and sold. It's the latest round of the biennial convention on international trade in endangered species. Kieran Murray is covering the meeting for Reuters News Service. He says this year's session continues the debates from two years ago.

MURRAY: The big three issues are almost always, and again this time, the elephants, whales, and marine turtles.

CURWOOD: What's the debate over the elephants all about?

MURRAY: There are four southern African states which would like to sell some of their ivory stocks. They say that the revenues from those sales would allow for greater investment in conservation programs. But on the other side of the debate, you have Kenya and India, who rely on healthy elephant stocks for their tourism industry. And they say that by opening up a legal trade in ivory, you automatically allow the creation of an illegal trade. And that already we are seeing more and more poachers, and more and more elephants being killed.

CURWOOD: For years there has been a ban on whaling that CITES has enforced. What's the debate about whaling this time?

MURRAY: The debate this time is pretty much the same as every year. Japan and Norway have resisted that worldwide ban. And again, this time they're asking for a relaxation of the ban, to allow commercial whaling of some whale stocks in the North Atlantic and other oceans.

CURWOOD: Turtles are on the list this year, you mentioned, as a hot item. What's the issue with them?

MURRAY: Cuba is requesting permission to sell some of its stock of Hawksbill turtle shells, and also it's asking for the right to sell another 500 individual Hawksbills, to harvest them every year from now on. They say that such sales would not endanger the population of Hawksbills in and around Cuba, but conservationists say that, again, that would open up an illegal market in turtle shells, one that already exists, but that it would fuel demand. And that Hawksbills everywhere around the world, and other turtle species, would again be considered fair game for the poachers.

CURWOOD: Is this meeting all just about animals? What else is being discussed?

MURRAY: It's not, no. There are many resolutions aimed at protecting plant species. And an interesting element this year is that many of those resolutions refer to medicinal plants, ones that have become more and more popular in the West in recent years. Things like ginseng, happy trees from China, the devil's claw from southern Africa. These products are used. Ginseng tablets are used everywhere, and these other products are used in drugs and in homeopathy and in pharmaceutical products. But now, they are also endangered species, and at this convention they are considering proposals to regulate the level of trade in those medicinal plants.

CURWOOD: Every time we do a story about the convention on international trade in endangered species, I have to wonder about the name. I mean, does it make sense to be trading in endangered species at all?

MURRAY: The idea is that those species that are very close to extinction, there is a total ban on their trade. Other endangered species are considered such, but they can withstand some trade as long as it's regulated -- sustainable use of these animals and their products. Some in some states would say that unless you do this, unless you have limited exploitation of, say, elephants or whales, then local communities who live with these animals, in the case of these elephants, see no benefit from them, and are therefore even more prone to shoot them or to poison them because they can be seen as a nuisance. And again, in the example of whaling, the Japanese and the Norwegians would say that many jobs are at stake. That many people rely on whaling, or have relied on whaling for centuries and for generations, as a key part of their livelihood.

CURWOOD: What do you think will be the outcome of this conference?

MURRAY: I think on the elephants there may well be some middle ground that can be found. The African states on either side of the debate are in intense negotiations, trying to find some middle ground where they would allow the southern African states to maybe sell in three or four years' time, rather than now, in order to allow time to see the effect of those sales, whether poaching numbers are increasing, whether elephants are being killed again. On some of the other issues, there really are only going to be winners or losers.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you. Kieran Murray reports for Reuters in Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

MURRAY: Thank you very much.



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