Wednesday, 13 Nov 2002

SANTIAGO, Chile

Despite the late night last night, which had delegates — and translators — working till nearly 10 p.m., toothfish still hasn’t been brought to the floor. What that meant for us was a late night with few results. Thankfully, it’s now virtually guaranteed that our issue will be debated today. This is a good thing because our team is on the verge of complete exhaustion, and once the vote is over, we can start to unwind and actually get outside to explore Santiago.

Downtown Santiago.

Despite being cooped up all day yesterday and for much of the past two weeks, some of us have managed to explore the city for at least a few hours. Santiago is usually derided as an intensely polluted city, but so far we’ve only seen a few days of really bad air; for the most part the weather has been spectacular: warm, sunny, and so clear that you can usually see the Andes off in the distance. The one exception to the relatively clean air, bizarrely enough, has been inside the conference center, where smoking is all too prevalent. Right now, sitting in our office at 9:45 a.m., my throat feels like I’ve already inhaled half a pack.

At some international conferences, it’s common for the host government to take pains to clean up the area for its “honored guests.” Before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum summit in Shanghai last year, the Chinese government shut down polluting plants and factories near Shanghai for weeks so that the delegates wouldn’t experience the city’s normally polluted air. Prior to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, last December, all of the major roads into the city were repaved and every building along the way was whitewashed. Thankfully, the Chilean government doesn’t seem to have gone out of their way to make Santiago seem like a cleaner, nicer, or wealthier city for CITES, with one sad and fairly gruesome exception.

Sometime late last week, someone decided that the stray dogs wandering the streets near the conference center had to go. We had all just begun to bond with them and had even begun to pick out the ones that we wanted to bring home with us. And then they all disappeared. Late Friday, we were told that they had all been rounded up and fed strychnine. It’s amazing really, thousands of environmental NGO representatives come to a meeting specifically about animal welfare and the host government decides to round up and kill all the stray dogs in the area. This issue hasn’t received a lot of attention, except from the folks at the Humane Society. At one outdoor rally on Friday, a young Chilean held up a poignant sign reading, “Leave the dogs alone. What did they ever do to you?”

Unfortunately, the treatment of the stray dogs hasn’t been the only example of cruelty to animals at this conference. As I mentioned yesterday, this is turning out to be a pretty animal unfriendly meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Over the course of the day yesterday, three of the five proposals to sell “legally collected” ivory on the international market were approved. The proposals by Zimbabwe and Zambia were rejected, ostensibly because their governments have not demonstrated they can protect their elephant herds. Members of the conference have speculated, however, that Zimbabwe’s proposal, at least, was purposefully defeated as an affront to Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, whose policy of land redistribution has sparked intense criticism, particularly among Western nations.

Following these votes, Kenya and India, introduced their proposal to up-list all elephants to Appendix I, thus prohibiting all international trade in elephants or elephant parts, but sensing a lack of support for the proposal, they withdrew it before it reached a vote.

A whale of a whale shark.

Photo: Greenpeace.

Also yesterday, a joint proposal by the Philippines and India to list the whale shark — at 60-feet-long, the world’s largest fish — as an Appendix II endangered species failed to pass by only two votes. Early this morning, a similar proposal by the United Kingdom to offer protections for the basking shark also failed by two votes. These giant fish are hunted almost exclusively for their fins, which are prized in Asia — especially in China and Taiwan — where a single fin can fetch up to $15,000. If listed, the basking would have been the first shark to receive an Appendix I or II listing with CITES.

Tune-in tomorrow to find out if the toothfish meets the same fate as its aquatic brethren or if the delegates choose to protect this overfished, and rapidly endangered, species. Right now, I’m heading out the door to check out Greenpeace’s toothfish protest. The word is that there are going to be several dozen people in toothfish costumes parading in front of the convention center. As with most Greenpeace actions, this one should be fun to watch.