Sharks and songbirds get new trade protections

The blue shark, a member of the requiem shark family, is the most widely fished shark in the world

Songbirds and sharks have received what conservationists say are vital new trade protections.

Several shark species and two songbirds have been added to a list of species whose trade is restricted to prevent them from being “traded to extinction”.

The decision was made on Friday during a global summit in Panama.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of an ongoing global extinction crisis.

Other animals given additional protection under the international wildlife trade treaty, known as CITES, include dozens of freshwater turtles and frogs.

“Over a million species are at risk of extinction if we don’t change the way we treat wildlife,” said Matthew Collis, vice president for conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“CITES governments have shown that they are beginning to understand the scale of the challenge needed to address the crisis plaguing the natural world.”

Some of the newly listed species will see a total ban on trade, while others will see new restrictions that aim to encourage more sustainable international trade.

The white-rumped shama and the straw-headed bulbul are just two species, both found in Southeast Asia, whose populations have been devastated by the songbird trade, where birds are captured for their singing ability and used in wildly popular bird song contests.

A white-rumped shama songbird locks itself in its cage

Prized for its song – the white-rumped shama

The straw-headed bulbul, in particular, has been driven to the brink of extinction — declining by 80 percent in the past 15 years, according to BirdLife International — by trapping that fuels huge demand for caged birds in the Southeast Asian.

“If there’s one species that deserves this list, it’s the straw-headed bulbul,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, director of TRAFFIC South East Asia, a non-governmental organization working globally on the wildlife trade.

Both now have extra protections through new trade restrictions agreed at the World Wildlife Summit, with a complete trade ban for the straw-headed bulbul.

Three rows of colorful bird cages at a market in Jakarta, Indonesia

Songbirds are caught and sold by the thousands in markets like this one in Jakarta, Indonesia

However, experts say many songbirds that remain unlisted lack the same protections and remain under threat.

Roger Safford, a conservationist at BirdLife International, said the decision was “a strong and direct response to the rapid decline of these species”.

“Unsustainable trade is a big deal,” he told BBC News. “And it is often deeply rooted in traditions and societies, but regulation, which can include trade bans, is certainly part of the solution. So we shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity [to put it in place].”

Nearly 100 species of sharks and shark-like rays have also received protections to help ensure that any trade in their meat and fins – which has pushed some sharks to the brink of extinction – is legal and sustainable.

This brings most shark species in international trade under treaty control.

Most of the newly listed species belong to the requiem shark family, which includes the tiger, bull and blue sharks.

Nearly half of all international shark fin trade is made up of bolters, according to Glenn Sant, senior fisheries and traceability consultant at TRAFFIC.

Pale dorsal fin of a blue shark, photographed underwater

The fins of the blue shark are used in shark fin soup and traditional Chinese medicine products

While some of these sharks are not considered threatened, all have been added to account for “lookalikes”, species that are difficult to distinguish from critically endangered ones.

The inclusion of similar species means that traders will not be able to pass off a protected shark for an unprotected shark in a trade.

The guitarfish family of shark-like rays, whose fins are mistaken for shark fins, also received new protections for 37 species.

Stingrays are a coastal species, particularly vulnerable to fishing methods such as bottom trawling.

“It’s a really important first step,” says Sant. “We are all excited for the species to be listed in CITES. But the hard work begins when countries actually have to implement it.”

Other species that have received new protections include the tiny translucent glass frogs and dozens of species of freshwater turtles, both of which are in high demand among exotic pet collectors.

A small glass frog perched on a thin branching stem of greenery

The tiny glass frogs are in high demand among collectors of exotic species

Freshwater turtles are one of the most endangered groups of vertebrates, with some selling for thousands of pounds.

Among the freshwater turtles that have received new protections are both species of the unusual-looking matamata family.

The listings mean that any trade will need proof that it is both tenable and legal.

Experts from conservation organizations have praised the additions but stress that other vulnerable species remain unprotected under the treaty.

A matamata turtle on a log against a forest background

Threatened: The unusual looking matamata turtles

“We would have loved to see even more freshwater turtles [protected] — all freshwater is under strain and overexploited,” says Sue Lieberman, vice president of international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Amphibians and reptiles in general have received little attention, though their popularity as pets has increased since the pandemic’s first lockdowns, according to Lieberman.

“We need to look more at the amphibian trade in the future, because amphibians have been hit hard by climate change and they’ve been hit hard by disease, so they’re more vulnerable to trade,” Lieberman says.

Rising temperatures around the world have increased the prevalence and severity of diseases affecting amphibians and can cause their habitats to become too dry.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List lists 41% of amphibian species as endangered, making them one of the most endangered classes of vertebrates on Earth.

“We’re not saying it shouldn’t be there [trade]we’re saying it shouldn’t exist in a way that drives these species to extinction,” says Lieberman.

A pile of ivory animal tusks

Governments have again agreed not to reopen the international ivory market this year

Though governments have rejected proposals to reopen international trade in ivory and rhino horn, experts have expressed frustration that controversial discussions have continued this year, saying it sends the wrong signal to ivory traders. .

“We can’t afford to trade for ivory,” Lieberman says.

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