x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UAE's 'strong stand' to protect Saker falcons

An international conservationist says the UAE still has a problem with the illegal smuggling of certain species of wild animals, but that the country is doing a good job of protecting falcons.

The illegal trade of endangered, wild animals continues to be a problem, but the country is making progress in some areas, a high-ranking international conservation official said yesterday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi, John Scanlon, the secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), praised the UAE's efforts to protect the endangered Saker falcon,which is traditionally used for hunting.

"The UAE in particular took a strong stand recognising there is an issue," he said.

However, although careful not to single out the UAE as a problem country, Mr Scanlon said his organisation was aware of "instances with high-value species being traded illegally".

"There are some challenges here but I am yet to see a region that does not have any challenges," he said. "We have an enforcement challenge globally, it is not just one region."

The UAE has a scheme that requires falconers to obtain passports for their birds, ensuring they are legally obtained or imported. As well as finding a "creative way of enabling trade", the UAE is also working with falcon range states such as Mongolia to ensure wild populations remain viable.

"What is heartening is the recognition that we need to work on this issue," Mr Scanlon said. "I would say it is a work in progress but I see a good level of commitment from states that have a tradition in falconry."

During the first day of the summit yesterday, Mr Scanlon addressed delegates from local and international environmental authorities and non-governmental organisations. The event continues at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Thursday.

Cites is an international agreement between governments. It aims to ensure that trade in wild animals and plants, including live specimens, fur coats and dried herbs, does not threaten their survival.

The agreement covers almost 35,000 species. Of these, only 3per cent are included in Appendix I, which means they should not be traded.

"For the other 97 per cent, trade is regulated," said Mr Scanlon, explaining that there were varying degrees of protection, depending on how rare a species was.

Each year, Cites issues 850,000 trade permits, he said. Yet, despite attempts to regulate the issue, illegal trade in wildlife has been estimated at US$10 billion (Dh36.72bn) per year. "We actually have a serious threat to biodiversity that is posed by the illegal trade," he said.

In addition to other species, the caviar of rare fish, reptile skins and items made of ivory were also traded in the UAE.

The UAE has been a Cites member since 1990, but it was briefly suspended in 2001 because of poor performance.

Despite reports that some wildlife trade still exists, Cites is unlikely to consider repeating the suspension, Mr Scanlon said.

Next week, Cites will hold a workshop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with representatives of all its Gulf signatories to "ask countries of the region what are their requirements" regarding the convention and its enforcement, Mr Scanlon said.

"What we need to do is seek to work with all our parties to assist them in their enforcement efforts," he said.

Globally, key species targeted by poachers are tigers and rhinoceroses.

"The tiger is probably the most difficult at the moment," said Mr Scanlon, explaining that numbers in the wild are down to 3,000. He added that "we have a big challenge at the moment with the rhino."

South Africa used to report an average of eight animals killed for the trade. In 2010, that number grew to 350, while so far this year more than 400 rhinos have been killed.

vtodorova@thenational.ae