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Polar bears lose, but Thai rosewood likely winner at CITES summit

Polar bears have failed to receive the protection of CITES, the world's biggest wildlife and plant summit, meeting in Thailand.



But it is highly likely Thailand will get the organisation's support to protect the Siamese rosewood, which is now vulnerable and threatened with extinction.

A proposal to transfer polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was defeated yesterday by member nations of the treaty.

The proposal, submitted for consideration by the United States, garnered intense debate primarily due to opposition from Canada, Greenland, and Norway, all of which are range states for polar bears. The final tally for the vote was 38 for, 42 against, and 46 abstentions.

"We are obviously disappointed the CITES' membership failed to give greater protection to polar bears by limiting permissible trade in polar bear pelts and other body parts," said US Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David J Hayes.

"We will continue to work with our partners to reduce the pressure that trade in polar bear parts puts on this iconic Arctic species, even as we take on the longer-term threat that climate change poses to polar bears."

Terry Audla, a representative of Canada’s indigenous Inuit people who live in the Arctic region, said they were happy the CITES delegates did not approve the adoption as a ban would affect their livelihood that relies on polar bear subsistence hunting.

Representatives from the Agricultural Department and National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department next Monday will submit Thailand's proposal to list the Siamese rosewood on CITES' Appendix II.

The proposal will be presented to the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16) to CITES being held until March 14 in Bangkok.

Under Appendix II, Siamese rosewood would be allowed for legal harvesting and international trade, but with certain limitations.

"We have the support of several representatives from the 150 countries attending this meeting and we really have [a strong likelihood of getting] the majority vote for our proposal," said Surawit Wannakrairoj, a science official of the Agricultural Department.

Surawit will be a Thai representative trying to convince delegates at the Committee II meeting. Thailand needs a two-thirds majority vote to get the adoption.

He was speaking after a side event meeting attended by representatives from 23 countries likely to support Thailand’s proposal, including the European Union, Germany, Vietnam, and Madagascar.

However, some countries want to make sure Thailand has the correct identification guidelines to classify the wood as this kind of timber is very similar to others. Some want Thailand to issue export licences for Siamese rosewood traders if it gets the CITES' support. They also want to ensure Thailand has enough Siamese rosewood for such trading.

"We are really supportive of Thailand's listing of the Siamese rosewood in the Appendix II and we also hope that Thailand will support us with our proposal," said Tiana Ramahaleo, conservation science and species programme coordinator of the Madagascar-based World Wildlife Fund.

Madagascar has also submitted two proposals, including one asking for the protection of its timber.

Siamese rosewood or Tracewood is considered a first-class prime timber due to its colour, hardness, durability, easiness to work and resistance to insects,including termites. The wood is fine in texture and heavy and has recently become one of the most expensive in the world.

Due to its vulnerability to extinction from over-exploitation of local forests, Siamese rosewood has become rare and the species is disappearing from most of its natural habitat. It was estimated that the country had 300,000 natural stands in 2005, but by 2011 this figure had been greatly reduced to just 80,000 - 100,000 trees.

"The adoption from CITES will help us to pave the way for sustainable management of Siamese rosewood," National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department’s deputy director-general Theerapat Prayurasiddhi said.

In a related development, the Republic of Congo's Minister of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development, Henri Djombo, asked Thailand to return all confiscated ivory that had been illegally imported into Thailand.


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