“It was a dark day for polar bears,” says Defenders’ Peter Jenkins, director of international conservation, on his return home from the recent conference of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—better known as CITES. Convention delegates failed to approve safeguards for polar bears—as well as protection for several species of sharks and bluefin tuna—at the meeting in Qatar in March.
But fortunately there was some good news from the meeting, as CITES delegates took action to help five species of tree frogs—including the red-eyed tree frog—and an Iranian salamander threatened by international trade.
Defenders of Wildlife has worked for years to help achieve this conservation victory, concerned that without the international trade protection CITES provides, several of these amphibian species would go extinct. Snatched from the wild, each of these tree frogs, which range from Mexico to Ecuador, can fetch as much as $65 in the pet trade industry.
The pet trade is also to blame for the near-extinction in the wild of the Kaiser’s spotted newt, which is found only in Iran. Defenders led support for a ban on trade of this animal. “It is heartening to see that environmental concern over our treasured imperiled wildlife can create some common ground for the United States and Iran,” says Defenders’ international counsel Alejandra Goyenechea, who chairs the Species Survival Network Amphibian Working Group. “But this was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing CITES conference.”
Defenders is part of a coalition working within CITES to save the polar bear by banning commercial trade in bear parts, including pelts, paws and teeth. During debate, almost all party delegates agreed that climate change poses a serious threat to the bear’s survival. “While climate change is the major threat to the bears, trade exacerbates the situation, and we will continue to work within CITES to stop this unsustainable luxury-item trade in skin and parts,” says Jenkins.
Defenders also worked to pass proposals to help eight kinds of overharvested sharks, including oceanic white tips, porbeagles and three species of hammerheads, which have seen 90 percent to 99 percent population declines in some regions. But these proposals were blocked by delegates from China and Japan, who argued there was insufficient information on population declines and that a trade ban would be too costly.
“We wanted the species listed under Appendix II, which is to monitor trade,” says Juan Carlos Cantu, who heads Defenders’ Mexico office and also attended the convention. “We weren’t pushing for an all-out trade ban but it was difficult to get that message across in the face of Japan’s false arguments. The majority of the parties were in favor of listing sharks in CITES, we just couldn’t get enough parties to get to the two-thirds majority.”
The worst outcome was for bluefin tuna, which failed to win protections even though it has been fished to precipitously low levels. In the last 50 years, the adult population of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin has declined 74 percent, much of it in the past decade. In the western Atlantic, the population drop amounts to 82 percent.
How You Can Help
Help save frogs by adopting one at our Wildlife Adoption Center.