Sri Lankan lizards, tortoises get greater protection from wildlife trade

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http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190901/news/sri-lankan-lizards-tortoises-get-greater-protection-from-wildlife-trade-366240.html published on 01.09.2019

The World Wildlife Conference, known formerly as the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), ended on August 28.

The Sri Lankan delegation at the summit

Most of proposals that Sri Lanka submitted along with other countries seeking trade protection for local species got adopted while some other proposals were adopted with changes. Sri Lanka withdrew one proposal, but plans to resubmit it soon.

Since coming into force in 1975, the CITES convention remains the world’s most powerful tool for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade with 183 signatories, including Sri Lanka. The countries can propose protection of species or request to downgrade protection at its Conference of Parties once in three years. This COP18 was initially planned to be held in May earlier this year in Sri Lanka, but later shifted to Geneva, Switzerland after the Easter Sunday attack by Muslim extremists on Catholic worshippers.

At the summit, Sri Lanka submitted a number of proposals seeking protection to some of the local species that can be over-exploited by the international trade. The three proposals were aimed at listing 10 lizards in the Appendix I of the CITES, preventing any form of international trade.

These proposals urge five species of Horned Lizards (Ceratophora spp.), two species of Pygmi Lizards (Cophotis ceylanica and Cophotis dumbara), Hump-nosed lizards (Lyriocephalus scutatus) and two species of garden (Calotes nigrilabris and Calotes pethiyagodai) to be included in CITES Appendix I.

The Sunday Times learnt there was opposition to these proposals mainly from the European Union, the main buyer of these species as pets.
However, Sri Lankan delegates defended the proposal to list Pygmy Lizards and three Horned Lizards to be included to Appendix I with majority voting in favor of.

Hump-nosed lizard, Rough-nosed horn lizard (Ceratophora aspera) and Rhino-horn lizard (Ceratophora stoddartii) could only be included into the CITES Appendix II on the basis of insufficient data to push for inclusion to Appendix I.

Sri Lanka withdrew the third lizard proposal that aimed at listing Garden lizards (Calotes nigrilabris and Calotes pethiyagodai) on Appendix I.
Exclusively speaking to the Sunday Times from Geneva, the Sri Lankan coordinator of CITES CoP18 Sri Lankan Secretariat, Dr.Sevvandi Jayakody said the reason for withdrawal was technical. “The species in the withdrawn proposal were scientifically split recently describing new species in the group, so EU and other experts questioned why not include the new species to the listing, so we decided to review the proposal and resubmit if after updating,” Dr.Jayakody said.

The Director General of DWC, Chandana Sooriyabandara

Meanwhile, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network TRAFFIC’s recent report titled ‘The presence of protected reptiles from Sri Lanka in international commercial trade’ shows that the trade in Sri Lankan reptiles is booming. The report authored by Jordi Janssen and Dr.Anslem de Silva says that more species may have been introduced into the trade in recent years. The study shows that Germany is at the center of the illegal trade in Sri Lankan reptiles, with 17 species observed during the study. Many of these are micro-endemics, living in a very restricted area and extremely vulnerable to overexploitation — so international trade can quickly become a significant threat to these species as they also face other challenges like habitat loss and degradation.

Sri Lanka along with other countries Bangladesh, India and Senegal also proposed Star Tortoise to be included in the Appendix I. This attracted controversy before the COP18 event as the CITES secretariat issued a recommendation against the proposal indicating that adding the Star Tortoise to Appendix I would not provide much benefit.

But in recent years, large volumes of Star Tortoises that has been seized from smugglers in countries including Sri Lanka, was cited as evidence of the need to protect them from the pet trade. This was approved at the conference.

Continuing the trend of using CITES trade quotas and permits to promote sustainable commercial fisheries, the conference decided to add 18 more shark species to Appendix II. They included Blacknose and Sharpnose guitarfishes, highly valued for their fins and considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Shortfin and Longfin Mako sharks, together with species of Wedgefishes are found in Sri Lankan waters. So Sri Lanka’s decision to become co-proponents of these proposals are important, said fisheries expert Daniel Fernando who was one of the delegates.

Taking the lead in shark conservation proposals, Sri Lanka also hosted a side event. The secretary of Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Siri Hettiarachchi, who led the Sri Lankan delegation, said it was successful.

Sri Lanka along with the United States proposed to enlist ornamental Tiger Spiders (tarantulla) and songbirds on Index II. Another proposal submitted with the US was to list Boswellia (frankincense) on Appendix III. Boswellia is a resin extracted from a tree with considerable anti-inflammatory properties.

The CoP18 was attended by 169 member governments (plus the EU) and some 1,700 delegates, observers and journalists. The Sri Lankan team was led by Siri Hettiarachchi, secretary of ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, and also included the Director General of Wildlife Department, Chandana Sooriyabandara, deputy director Ranjan Marasinghe and Dr.Sevvandi Jayakody, Daniel Fernando and Manori Gunawardane.

Representing the minister of wildlife, the lawmaker, Sandith Samarasinghe participated with additional secretary Dayawan Rathnayake, and ambassador Abdul Azeez.

CITES COP18 is successful in terms of species protection initiatives and attention Sri Lanka got, Dr.Sevvandi said.

A Sri Lankan lizard on one of the CITES report

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