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Wildlife trade: UN watchdog meets to protect more species

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Wildlife trade: UN watchdog meets to protect more species
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REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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Mako sharks, elephant ivory and giraffes are on the agenda this Saturday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The UN wildlife watchdog regulates the trade of species at risk of extinction around the world, by imposing bans or requiring permits so that rare animals and plants are not over-harvested.

The 183 countries who are signatories of CITES will meet in Geneva from August 17 to 28 to evaluate changes to regulations and species protection listings that already covers 36,000 species.

The existing treaty also contains mechanisms to help crackdown on illegal trade and sanction countries that break the rules.

"Poaching and illegal trade in wildlife involving organised crime groups continue to pose a very serious threat to many animal and plant species. And for this reason this will again be a major issue of discussion," Ben Rensburg, CITES chief for enforcement support, told a news briefing ahead of the triennial conference.

It comes after a UN report released in May warned about the rapid decline of some species, highlighting that one million species are on the brink of extinction.

Species targeted by wildlife hunters that are on the meeting's agenda including pangolins — the ant-eating mammal hunted for its protective scales used in Chinese traditional medicine. Rhinos, Asian big cats, and cheetahs are also on the agenda.

The European Union wants to curb the global trade of shark fins by listing them on Appendix II, which means that trade must be legal and sustainable.

Because of shark fin trade, mako sharks, guitarfishes and wedgefishes are being pushed to extinction, said CITES.

The case of African elephants hunted for their ivory is also expected to dominate discussions.

Global trade in ivory has been outlawed since 1989 after they saw a rapid decline.

Member states will look at three proposals to curb ivory trade. Two proposals that come from southern African countries urge the resumption of ivory stockpile sales, which they argue could satisfy the demand, especially from Asia, that drives illegal poaching.

But animal protection activists say stockpile sales actually boost demand for tusks and thus increases poaching.

"We should not be repeating this again when the poaching crisis is still so severe," Matthew Collis, policy chief at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told AFP.

Other countries in western, eastern, and central Africa want all elephant populations to be placed in the most protected category that would ban all ivory sales.

Giraffes are on the agenda for the first time, with several African countries calling for the animals to be added to Appendix II.

The African giraffe population is now considered threatened following a 40% decline of the species over the past three decades.