VANCOUVER, October 29/2004 - "What if there was a world so perfectly balanced that millions of species thrived in realms of water, land and air. What if a single species became so powerful that it began to change the very nature of the planet itself? It's happening right now, and only one species has the power to stop it. Ours." (Alanis Morisette and Keanu Reeves narrators for The Great Warming, Stonehaven Canada Productions)
Over 1,400 delegates representing 166 nations wrapped up critical United Nations wildlife treaty negotiations earlier this month in Bangkok, Thailand at the meeting of CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, the convention that monitors the trade in endangered species of animals and plants. A total of 50 proposals were debated during the two week meeting. Canada, one of the first original signatories to the wildlife treaty nearly 30 years ago did not submit any proposals for consideration.
There was a general consensus that wildlife was a big winner, however, Al Hickey, Western Regional Director for The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) isn't quite as optimistic. "While the so-called 'wildlife wins' at CITES are important, they are largely symbolic. What we have is a commitment on paper. But at the end of the day, it is action, not words that will save endangered species," he said. "We can only protect endangered species through a balanced program of law enforcement and education, backed by the money, people and expertise needed to get the job done."
In his role as Executive Director of The Humane Society of Canada, Michael O'Sullivan has actively participated in the administration and enforcement of CITES for nearly 20 years where he works to protect Canadian interests abroad and to offer Canadian assistance to protect the world's vanishing wildlife. He and his staff have carried out scientific research, field projects and conducted dangerous undercover investigations. He filed this special report: The Price of Every Living Thing - Endangered Species At Risk, where he had been attending as an accredited observer at the critical negotiations for this United Nations treaty.
"Over the past 20 years, we have had very real problems convincing civil servants and politicians that Canadians support the protection and not the killing of wildlife. However, it looks like all that hard work may finally be paying off, and we may finally be able to put all of that behind us," he says.
"At the recent CITES meeting in Bangkok, Canada voted in favour of proposals to protect whales and dolphins, to encourage greater cooperation with other international wildlife treaty organizations, and to secure greater protection for the endangered Patagonian tooth fish. The openness and willingness of government officials to discuss these issues is a dramatic departure from the days when you had to drag them kicking to the table just to get an answer out of them," says O'Sullivan. On the other hand, Canadian civil servants still have a soft spot for the old argument that the killing of wildlife brings in more money than ecotourism, a position O'Sullivan says doesn't add up or even make sense. "Less than 5% of Canadians engage in the recreational killing of wildlife, and yet Canadian officials voted in favour of proposals that will eventually reopen the trade in ivory and also voted in favour of proposals to allow the trophy hunting of endangered rhinos and leopards," said O'Sullivan.
An Interpol report says that drugs, weapons and endangered species are the three most illegally traded commodities in the world. The international police organization says the illegal trade in endangered species is worth more than $13 billion CAD ($10 billion USD). "These are well organized criminals, armed with automatic weapons and the latest technology, and we are in danger of losing the fight against wildlife crime unless we use more modern and effective crime fighting techniques," explains O'Sullivan, who has done a lot of undercover work. His charity, recently gave their coveted Heroes for Animals Award on agents with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Metro Toronto Police for their arrest of a woman using the internet to sell ivory over the internet from her base of operations in Canada.
"Right now, CITES is one of the few mechanisms protecting species from over-exploitive world trade. But, we should realize that there is a world of difference between what countries promise to do, and then what they actually do. Unless we hold elected officials and civil servants accountable by having more public participation and oversight, then the only thing we can count on is that we will lose even more species every day. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves", he said.
And we have to protect the fragile ecosystems that support all life on earth. In the last 100 years, we have lost over 50% of the world's wetlands, 27% of coral reefs, 80% of grasslands at risk from soil erosion and 70% dry lands threatened by desertification. Over the last 40 years, more than half of the world's wetlands have been devastated.
"The suggestion that the only wildlife worth saving is the plant or animal that can pays its' own way is nonsense, because the very thing that makes an endangered species more valuable to people leads to its unbridled use and eventual extinction - it is a depressingly facet of human nature that short term monetary gain is a substitute for common sense and long term planning," he says. Removing large numbers of a species from an ecosystem is like removing a vital part from a complex computer and by the time we notice that species in trouble, it's very expensive and time consuming to fix the problem, and usually we're already too late. "We need to stop this countdown to extinction before it's too late," says O'Sullivan.
CONTACT: Michael O'Sullivan by toll free 1-800-641-KIND or Michael on his cell phone (416) 876-9685 or at www.humanesociety.com via twitter at www.twitter.com/HSCanada and on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Humane-Society-of-Canada/211468055538280
[For more than 17 years, Al Hickey was the Chief Executive of the BC SPCA and before that headed up the Alberta and BC Chambers of Commerce, and was the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vancouver. He has been The HSC Western Regional Director for over 12 years. He has 4 children and 6 grandchildren. For his lifetime of achievement dedicated to helping people, animals and the environment, we have bestowed upon him our prestigious Heroes for Animals Award, shared by only a handful of people and organizations.
A father with two children, and a houseful of dogs and cats, Michael O'Sullivan has worked across Canada and in over 110 countries during the last 40 years helping people, animals and nature.]
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