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Compromise on Tigers, Big Loss for Corals at Wildlife Trade Conference

US is Largest Market for Red and Pink Corals

WASHINGTON, DC, March 21, 2010 – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed improvements over trade in tigers and other Asian big cat species at a United Nations meeting on wildlife trade but was disappointed that overharvested red and pink corals – which are heavily imported into the US -- were not given the highest protection.

An amended resolution on Asian big cats calls for increased regional cooperation among tiger range states, improved reporting, establishment of a tiger trade database and improved law enforcement. Representatives from the more than 100 governments attending the meeting, including the majority of the tiger range countries, agreed unanimously to a European Union proposal at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“This proposal was a test for the effectiveness of CITES as an international conservation agreement and despite the compromise, progress was made,” said Carlos Drews, Director, Species Program, WWF International. “But words alone will not save wild tigers as a global poaching epidemic empties Asia’s forests and CITES governments will need to live up to the commitments made today.”

Unfortunately, no agreements were reached to strengthen the control of domestic trade in tiger parts and products from tiger farms. Tiger range countries led by China claimed that CITES oversight would infringe on the sovereignty of countries and was beyond the mandate of CITES as an international treaty, even though similar measures have already been taken by CITES for Tibetan antelope, elephants, rhinos and sturgeon.  However, the decision relating to tiger farming agreed at the last meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2007 was retained, so the control measures have not been weakened.

“We are pleased that no ground was lost and that China joined the consensus,” added Drews. “It is now up to the tiger range countries to work with the wider international community to crack down on illegal poaching and trade, and further reduce demand for tiger products.”

In other news, governments voted today against implementing better protections for red and pink coral, which are being overharvested to supply the international jewelry trade.

Governments voted against a joint United States and European Union proposal to list all species in the family Corallidae in Appendix II of the Convention.

An Appendix II listing would have required countries to introduce measures to ensure international trade in these corals is sustainable and regulated.

“TRAFFIC and WWF are deeply disappointed with the decision not to list red and pink corals,” said Ernie Cooper of TRAFFIC.

“Without the trade control measures this would have introduced, the current overharvesting of these precious corals will continue unabated.”

There are more than 30 species of Corallidae found worldwide, which are harvested in the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific, primarily for the manufacture of jewelry and other art objects. Major harvesting and processing territories include Italy, Japan and Taiwan. The US is the largest market for red and pink corals and imported 28 million pieces of red and pink coral between 2001 and 2008.

Many species are known to be threatened through overharvesting. According to TRAFFIC and WWF there is a clear case that regulation of trade in Corallidae under CITES would provide important safeguards to support better management of these valuable coral species.

“This is a shame for CITES governments because it was an opportunity to show that the Convention has not entirely lost the capacity to face down vested interests that oppose CITES protection for marine species,” said Dr Colman O’Criodain, Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst at WWF International.

China has already listed four of the threatened coral species found in its waters in Appendix III of the Convention. Such a listing requires that trade must be conducted only with the appropriate paperwork that allows countries to track and assess levels of international trade.

However, several countries considered the identification of corals a serious stumbling block for implementing trade regulations.

“Bringing up coral identification was just a smokescreen to confuse the issue,” said Cooper, who is soon to complete a guide to allow identification of corals, and has recently published a method for using DNA to identify manufactured coral products.

“Today’s decision was a question of expediency rather than a full examination of the facts. Commercial lobbying won through,” said Cooper, adding: “The conservation of corals is all at sea.”

WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit to learn more.   

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint program of IUCN and WWF. Visit to learn more.