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Saturday, January 18, 2020

International protection for ‘cute’ otters: what is CITES, what does it do?

The proposal on protecting the Tokay gecko mentioned threats from hunting and collection for use in traditional medicine.

Written by Sanjana Bhalerao | Mumbai | Updated: August 27, 2019 7:35:30 am
International protection for ‘cute’ otters: what is CITES, what does it do? Smooth-coated otter in Kabini river. (Wikipedia)

Over a hundred nations, acting within the framework of an inter-governmental agreement, approved a proposal by India, Nepal, and Bangladesh Sunday to prohibit commercial international trade in a species of otter native to the subcontinent and some other parts of Asia.

One hundred and two votes were cast in favour and 15 against, with 11 abstentions, at the ongoing Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (CoP18) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva. The vote must be confirmed at the Plenary of the meeting, which concludes Wednesday.

The Conference also accepted a separate proposal by India, moved together with the EU, the US and the Philippines, for inclusion of a species of gecko lizard found widely in South and Southeast Asia, the US, and Madagascar for protection as a “species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival”.

Animals and appendices

Members at the Conference have voted to move the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) from CITES Appendix II to CITES Appendix I “because it is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction and is detrimentally affected by international trade, as well as habitat loss and degradation and persecution associated with conflict with people (and fisheries)”.

The other proposal that was passed was to include the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) in CITES Appendix II.

Appendix I includes species “threatened with extinction”; according to the CITES website, “trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances”. Appendix II provides a lower level of protection. There is also an Appendix III, which “contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade”.

otter, tokay gecko, what is CITES, Endangered Species, Endangered Species India, Wild Fauna Endangered Species, Flora Endangered Species, CITES Geneva Tokay gecko. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

An AFP report said smooth-coated otter numbers in the wild had fallen by at least 30% over the past 30 years, and in Japan, where keeping otters as “cute” pets is a fad, otter cafes offer baby otters for up to $10,000 (almost Rs 7.2 lakh) each.

The proposal moved at CITES CoP18 flagged threats to all subspecies of otters from “man-made changes to aquatic habitats”, poaching, illegal trade for use as pets, and for the animals’ fur and for use in traditional medicine. Between 1980 and 2017, 5,881 otter pelts were seized across 15 countries in Asia, with about half of the seizures being made in India, the proposal said.

The proposal on protecting the Tokay gecko mentioned threats from hunting and collection for use in traditional medicine.

Apart from the smooth-coated otter, India had proposed Appendix I status for the small-clawed otter, mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), the Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) and the Tokay gecko.

The International Convention

The CITES website describes it as an international agreement aimed at ensuring “that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”.

CITES was drafted after a resolution was adopted at a meeting of the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1963. The text of the Convention was agreed at a meeting of the representatives of 80 countries in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1973; the Convention is, therefore, sometimes referred to as the Washington Convention.

CITES entered into force on July 1, 1975, and now has 183 parties. States and regional economic integration organisations adhere voluntarily to CITES. The Convention is legally binding on the Parties in the sense that they are committed to implementing it; however, it does not take the place of national laws.

In effect, CITES provides a framework for Parties to make domestic legislation to ensure that the Convention is implemented effectively in their national jurisdictions.

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