April 12, 2000

Conservation groups team up against Cuba's proposals

.c Kyodo News Service

NAIROBI, April 12 (Kyodo) - Twenty conservation groups from around the world have urged the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Nairobi to reject proposals from Cuba to reopen trade in hawksbill turtle shells, officials said Wednesday.

The officials said reopening the trade, even in the form of a one-time sale of stockpiled shells, would encourage stockpiling by other countries and illegal killing of hawksbill turtles worldwide.

Many scientists and conservationists oppose the Cuban proposals as they are not based on scientific data, the officials told reporters.

Cuba has made two proposals under CITES to be allowed to sell its stockpile of shells to Japan. Scientists say that crocodile experts, as opposed to sea turtle biologists, did the development and promotion of Cuba's proposals.

''Unlike crocodiles, which many unfortunately consider to be a success in international trade, hawksbill turtles are highly migratory and extremely slow to mature,'' said Jeanne Mortimer of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the world's oldest sea turtle research and conservation group.

''This, combined with their complicated life history and their severely depleted numbers, makes it utterly premature to reopen international trade,'' she said.

Specialists said the status of the hawksbill was elevated deservedly to ''critically endangered'' in 1996.

According to research, hawksbill shells have been considered a precious material on a par with ivory, rhino horn and gold.

During the two decades prior to the closure of international trade in hawksbill products in 1992, more than 50 countries were exporting shells and stuffed juvenile hawksbills to Japan alone.

From 1970 to 1986, Japanese imports included products derived from more than 600,000 adult hawksbills and 557,000 juveniles.

''Despite the terminology used in the proposals, there is no such thing as a 'Cuban hawksbill population','' said Rhema Kerr of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, Jamaica.

''Caribbean hawksbills represent a resource that is shared by most countries in the region, and Cuba's proposal will undermine the efforts of range states, such as Jamaica, to conserve hawksbills.''

AP-NY-04-12-00 1050EDT

Copyright 2000 The Kyodo News Service.



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