Migratory Birds and Animals Rapidly Dying Out

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, November 19, 1999 (ENS) - Elephants are vanishing from western and central Africa.

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Elephant in Zambia (Photo courtesy Zambia National Tourist Board)
Sturgeons are in dramatic decline because of over-exploitation for their roe which is sold for high prices as caviar, and also due to pollution of their river and coastal marine habitats.

Antelopes have almost been eradicated over the last 30 years in the northern African arid areas - a region larger in size than the Australian continent.

Houbara bustards, birds well adapted to steppe and desert areas and traditional prey for hunting with falcons will soon disappear from Asia and Africa if no strong action is taken.

Albatrosses and other seabirds, dolphins and marine turtles by the hundreds of thousands are being caught and drowned in the nets of fishing boats.

Governmental and non-governmental wildlife experts from 100 countries worked on plans to reverse these losses at a global conference in Cape Town, South Africa from November 4 to 16 - the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

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Douglas Hykle of the CMS Secretariat (left), with Geoffrey Cowan, assistant director nature conservation, South Africa (Photos courtesy Earth Negotiation Bulletin unless noted)
The Convention, which aims to offer protection across national boundaries to species threatened with extinction - such as whales, seals, polar bears, elephants and migratory birds - was signed in Bonn in 1979.

There are between 5,000 and 10,000 migratory species. Many are threatened with extinction and very many have not been researched at all.

The conference decided by consensus that seven migratory species - six rare birds and the manatees in the marine areas of Panama and Honduras - be listed as endangered. This will entail their strict legal protection including their habitat, by the countries where they live.

Thirty other species - dolphins in South-East Asia, seven petrel species, twelve sturgeon species of various regions and the Whale Shark - will be protected in other ways. These will include transboundary research, monitoring, conservation actions, harmonization of legislation, capacity building and public awareness raising activities.

Seven more countries added their signatures to an Agreement on the Conservation of Marine Turtles on the Atlantic Coast of Africa, led by the Nigerian Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr. Imeh Okopido.

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Arnulf Müller-Helmbrecht, Executive Secretary for CMS, with Dr. Imeh Okopido, Minister for the Environment, Nigeria at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Marine Turtles.
Over and above goodwill decisions, the wildlife experts, although under severe pressure from their finance ministries at home, agreed to invest about US$1 million in a two year project plan for the benefit of the species concerned and their habitats, but with real benefits in the longer term to the local communities in the respective countries.

To date, more than 80 wild animal species enjoy the strict protection offered by the Bonn Convention through being listed under Appendix I. Examples include many whale species, dolphins, Monk seals, European bats, the Snow leopard, turtles and many species of birds, such as the Osprey and the Siberian crane.

The most comprehensive of the specialized agreements to date is the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) which has just held its First Meeting in Cape Town at the invitation of the Netherlands. It presently embraces 117 Range States covering 60,000,000 square kilometres and 172 species, such as the White Stork, pelicans, flamingoes and endangered ducks, which are dependent on intact wetlands. "Migratory birds do not just require protection in their breeding and wintering grounds..." says CMS Executive Secretary Arnulf Mueller-Helmbrecht, "...but also in their resting places and along their migration routes."

This agreement is seen as an essential instrument for the conservation of waterbirds on their migration routes, for the 21st century. Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme said, "One should bear in mind, that migratory birds have evolved in the course of the last 200 million years. A study carried out by the Max Planck Society has established that over the past 25 years, the number of birds migrating between Europe and Africa has declined by one per cent per annum". It is "an alarming thought that these species could become extinct in the next 100 to 200 years," he said.

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Albatross
Sea birds too are vanishing. "At least 250,000 albatrosses and petrels have been killed in the past three years," claims an expert from the international bird conservation group BirdLife International, who called them "extremely endangered."

To reverse the killing of albatrosses and petrels, the delegates passed a resolution demanding a "substantial reduction" in the by-catch from countries with fishing fleets. The by-catch means animals and birds other than the targeted species of fish that are caught by the fishing nets.

Other seabirds, dolphins and marine turtles are also expected to benefit if this resolution is implemented.

Complete information about the Bonn Convention is online at: http://www.wcmc.org.uk/cms/

The next Conference of the Parties will be held in the Convention's home city, Bonn, Germany in 2002.