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Endangered Species

6/1/2007

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — If you think the problem of
endangered species is all about tigers, elephants and orangutans,
ask a violinist where he gets his bow.

The best violin bows are made from pau brasil, a tree from the
Brazilian rain forest that has been exploited for 500 years, and
was once so economically vital for the red dye it produced that it
gave its name to the only country where it grows.

Pau brasil is among dozens of plants and animals threatened with
extinction that are on the agenda of the 171-nation Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, which opens
its meeting Sunday. About 7,000 animals and 32,000 plant families
now are regulated, including more than 800 species which are banned
completely from commerce.

Bows from brazilwood, also known as Pernambuco, have been
coveted by musicians since Mozart's time in the mid-1700s for their
sound quality, density, rich color and strength in holding a curve.

Brazil has tried to halt the decline of the tree's coastal
habitat, delineating 189 national forests and protected areas as it
works to fend off the encroachments of sugar and coffee
plantations, gold miners, timber merchants and cattlemen.

It takes a lot of wood to make a violin bow — of every 3,300
pounds, only 220 to 440 pounds are usable, experts say, and 80
percent of that is wasted in carving the bow. The tree has a trunk
only about 15 feet long, meaning a tree can produce only a few
bows.

Also on the agenda is Honduran rosewood, a tree that grows in
small areas of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize from which top-quality
marimbas are made.

And Peru may face sanctions for failing to control the export of
mahogany, which is used for guitars. About 90 percent of the
mahogany from the Peruvian Amazon is logged illegally, said Kris
Genovese of the Defenders of Wildlife.

Although they cannot vote, non-government organizations and
lobby groups will present papers at the CITES meeting, speak and
prowl the corridors.

Among them is the Pernambuco Initiative, with a membership of
220 people — claiming 70 percent of the world's bow makers — in 22
countries. It already has financed the planting of thousands of pau
brasil seedlings since 2002.

``Conservation of a tropical timber species is a complex
issue,'' the group said in a paper appended to Brazil's proposal on
protecting its forests. ``One of the most important factors is to
have the support and involvement of the users of the species.''

The CITES conference focuses on over-exploitation of exotic
species. But in the background this year are fresh warnings that
many more species will be wiped out by climate change.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said a global
temperature rise of 3.6 degrees — the minimum scientists expect by
the end of this century — will kill 30 percent of all known
species.

``Climate change is a major threat, but so is trade,'' said
Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Unit for the World
Wildlife Fund. ``More and more species are being threatened because
of globalization.''

Many of the issues to be discussed are familiar from previous
CITES meetings.

Botswana, supported by Namibia and Tanzania, wants to relax the
1989 ban on the ivory trade, arguing that its elephant population
has rebounded. The 150,000 animals roaming the savanna are
increasingly competing with man for space, it says.

Local people think ``elephants are a pest,'' Botswana said in
its application. It pledged to earmark state revenue from the ivory
trade to elephant conservation and community development.

But conservationists object, saying the illegal ivory trade is
thriving and that lifting the ban in some countries would make it
easier to poach elephants all over Africa, where herds are
shrinking.

China, which agreed in 1993 to halt the trade in tiger bones,
wants to harvest tiger products from breeding farms, saying it
would help satisfy the demand for traditional medicines without
threatening tigers in the wild, which are on the verge of
extinction. China has several farms raising thousands of captive
tigers.

Opponents argue legitimizing the sale of tiger parts would only
re-ignite a public appetite for the banned goods and encourage
poaching of the big cat.

``The Chinese ban has been working really well,'' WWF's
Lieberman said. ``But they are under a lot of pressure from
powerful businessmen.''

One new item on the agenda is a German proposal to regulate
trade in the spiny dogfish, a small migratory shark commonly used
for fish-and-chips. Stocks of reproductive females have declined by
95 percent in the Northeast Atlantic and by 75 percent in the
Northwest Atlantic, says WWF. A female takes up to 23 years to
mature.

Germany also wants to list porbeagle sharks, another
slow-growing shark prized for its meat and fins for shark fin soup.
Among the 36 proposals — each requiring a two-thirds majority of
voting member states — are recommendations to increase protection
for whales, sawfish, European eel, and Brazilian spiny lobsters.