A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

CITES Failing to Excite

hammerhead-sharks-031113The big international conference that decides the fate of endangered animals is serving up its usual mix of a small reprieves while still condemning vast numbers of other animals to extinction.

The best reprieves so far are for five kinds of sharks including the scalloped hammerhead, which is the favorite of Chinese people who defend eating shark fin soup as a “cultural tradition”.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans. (In 2011, 17 humans were killed by sharks.) That translates into about 440 million pounds of shark fins, half of which find their way to Hong Kong from the fishing industries of about 83 countries.

One third of the 450 known kinds of sharks are close to extinction. Porbeagle sharks are especially hunted by French and Spanish fishing fleets in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, where their numbers have fallen by about 95 percent.

With the new agreement, fishing companies will now have to apply for permits to export the fins and other parts of porbeagle, whitetip and three kinds of hammerhead sharks – which will give these sharks enough of a break to recover some of their numbers … so they can then be fished some more.

They’re not about protecting the animals themselves; they’re about making sure the species so the industry remains intact.

And that’s the thing about CITES and other “conservation” meetings. They’re not about protecting the animals themselves; they’re simply about making sure the species itself doesn’t go extinct so there will still be enough of them to keep the industry intact and our appetites suitably taken care of.

Still, Carlos Drews, head of World Wildlife Fund’s delegation to CITES, called the shark votes “a landmark moment”. And Ralf Sonntag, shark specialist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, called the move “a bold move by CITES. These sharks are worth far more alive than dead to local communities.”

Sad, though, that these wildlife groups have to argue their case in terms of how valuable sharks may be “to local communities”, rather than simply in their own right.

Elephants are still under the axe. Their slaughter has doubled in the last decade, and elephant births in Africa cannot remotely keep up with the killing. Several countries at the conference are now threatening to impose sanctions on the so-called “gang of eight”, which includes Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (where the elephants are poached); Malaysia,Vietnam and the Philippines, through which tusks and skins are smuggled, and Thailand and China which are the main destinations. Again, the best that the conference might achieve is limiting the number of elephants who are killed so the “species” has a chance to recover (and then be “culled” some more). The idea that people might actually be stopped from killing elephants, period, is not remotely up for consideration.

And while you might think that “Western” countries would take the lead in protecting animals, the United States and Canada couldn’t even agree on a simple plan to offer some protection to polar bears. Canada called the proposal a plea to emotion rather than science, and Inuit delegates said it would hurt them economically since they benefit from trophy hunting.