U.S. Department of the InteriorDOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
June 15, 2007
Hugh Vickery, DOI 065 126 7500 (The Hague)
Ken Burton, FWS (202) 208-5647

United States Pleased with Progress Made to Conserve Elephants, Tigers, Sawfish, and Other Species at CITES Conference in The Hague

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The United States is pleased with actions taken by the 171 nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to protect tigers from poaching and imperiled sawfish species from over-harvest, said Todd Willens, the head of the U.S. Delegation.

Delegates to the two-week conference, which ended today, also approved an agreement to allow a one-time sale of ivory stockpiles held by three south African countries followed by a nine-year moratorium on future sales. The United States supported the compromise worked out by African range nations to resolve an issue that has dominated CITES’ conferences for three decades. “The United States is pleased that the range states were able to come to consensus on the ivory issue,” Willens said. “We believe this is a significant step forward for the conservation of elephants in the wild.”

“While the debate was often vigorous, we achieved many of our objectives, especially the passage of a strong resolution encouraging China to maintain its ban on the domestic sale of tiger parts and end the practice of breeding tigers for the commercial sale of tiger parts,” Willens said. “We also gained approval for our proposal to impose an international trade ban in endangered sawfish.”

“As we have in past conferences, the United States made it clear that we respect the views of range countries and want to support them in their efforts to conserve declining species,” Willens said. “We had many good meetings at this conference that nurtured this spirit of international partnership.”

Here is a summary of the key issues at the conference:

Tigers: The United States today played a major role in helping protect the world’s declining populations of wild tiger from poaching, rallying support for an international resolution calling on China to continue its ban on domestic trade in tigers and tiger parts.

The resolution stated that countries with intensive commercial tiger breeding facilities should restrict the captive population of tigers to the level needed to support conservation of wild tigers. More importantly, the resolution strongly opposed commercial “tiger farms” that raise tigers to harvest their parts for use in traditional medicines, wines, and other products. “Tigers should not be bred for their parts and derivatives,” the resolution stated.

Elephants: Under a proposal negotiated by elephant range states and passed by the conference, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe will be allowed to conduct a one-time sale of ivory stocks collected from elephants that died of natural causes and elephants taken by governments to protect villages. The United States has serious reservations about allowing Zimbabwe to be part of the sale because of doubts about its conservation record and commitment to combating poaching, but decided to support the agreement. Zimbabwe will have to demonstrate the effectiveness of its conservation program before it will be allowed by the CITES Standing Committee to proceed with the sale.

The conference agreed that no further proposals to allow trade in elephant ivory will be considered for the period from the 14th Conference of the Parties and ending nine years from the already approved one-time sale of ivory. Japan is currently the only approved trading partner; however China has also requested to be approved as a trading partner.

“The ivory issue tends to dominate CITES’ conferences with little resolution of the core issues over the years,” Willens said. “The proposal adopted today will give us a much-needed breather and allow parties, especially those from African countries, to focus on other species that are in need of attention.”

Sawfish: A proposal by the United States to list sawfish under Appendix 1 of the Convention, banning international trade, was approved. Sawfish are shark-like rays with elongated, tooth-studded snouts, and are severely endangered worldwide. Fishermen keep sawfish when they catch them incidentally to supply international demand for fins, snouts or rostral saws (snouts), and other body parts used in traditional medicines. The convention made an exception for one species of sawfish, listing them on Appendix II, allowing Australia to continue trade in live animals if it does not hinder the conservation of the species.

— DOI —