Wildlife Conference to Pick New Species for Protection

Article excerpt

LIKE modern-day Noahs, more than 100 nations will meet next month in Japan to pick a new batch of wild species in need of being saved from global traders.

While the North American black bear, the bluefin tuna, the mahagony tree, and even the Venus fly-trap are among the species being nominated for protection under an international treaty, also at stake is whether the African elephant will lose its present protection.

Six southern African nations with healthy elephant populations - Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe - want to lift a ban on trade in ivory that took effect two years ago. The World Wildlife Fund, which opposes the move, points to a danger from elephant poachers in other African nations.

The elephant debate will be just one of many for delegates from nearly 112 nations when they meet in Kyoto from March 2 to 13 under a treaty known as CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Species of Flora and Fauna.

Japan, which seeks to shed its image as an "eco-outlaw" despite being the world's largest importer of wildlife and wildlife products, is more than just the host for this year's meeting. It stands to lose a valuable amount of trade in tuna, timber, wild birds, and other species if some proposals are accepted. Its large ivory-carving industry is also eager to resume imports of ivory.

"We don't know if CITES is the best way to protect wildlife," says Tetsuo Kondo, a Japanese official coordinating the conference. "We cannot neglect the welfare of the people in nations which export wildlife." He warns that CITES might collapse if "extreme" views of environmentalists are adopted.

This CITES meeting, the eighth since 1975, has taken on a new political intensity compared to past ones. Over 300 environmentalists are expected to closely track the event, which is seen as a measure of global attitudes toward the environment before this June's "earth summit" in Brazil.

In addition, wildlife-exporting nations are taking the offensive. …