Tassie tiger 'no longer endangered'

There are two ways to get removed from the list of endangered species, and the Tasmanian tiger, the buff-nosed kangaroo rat and the pig-footed bandicoot have found the surest. They're extinct.

The 178 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting at the Queen Sirikit International Convention Center on Thursday agreed to remove six Australian species from Appendix I, which bans them being traded.

The most notable is the Tasmanian tiger, the dog-like marsupial named for its striped back, that was driven to extinction decades ago by farmers protecting their sheep.

The last known specimen died in a Hobart zoo in 1936 and the species was declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1982.

However, as a precaution, it continued to be included on Appendix I of Cites which came into force in 1975, joining such colourfully-named species as the crescent nailtail wallaby and the lesser rabbit-eared bandicoot.

As for the dusky flying fox, it probably never even existed and only a single apparent specimen was collected in the 19th  century.

Other extinct species included on Cites protection lists will be reviewed by the end of the conference on March 14, including the Guadalupe Caracara from Mexico and the New Zealand laughing owl.

"It is terribly sad," said Colman O'Criodain of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), noting that the Australian extinctions had nothing to do with international trade.

"It reflects what happened to the Australian ecosystem when Europeans arrived on the continent," he said, referring to the introduction of non-native species such as cats and foxes which slashed the number of some indigenous creatures.

"Australia has an unfortunate history of high levels of extinction particularly of small mammals," said Deb Callister, head of the Australian delegation to Cites.

Two frogs which raised their young in their mouths are also on the list, Ms Callister added, but have not been found in Australia since the 1980s.

"Australia is not proud of our extinction record, it is a legacy issue that we've learned from and we try now to put in place recovery plans and other actions for those species that are threatened."

Among those is the Tasmanian devil, a marsupial threatened by a contagious facial cancer which has decimated 90 percent of the population. The rest may prove impossible to save.

This is one of the few times that Cites has withdrawn extinct species from its list, which comprises some 35,000 protected species.

"There's probably going to be some more," said David Morgan, the convention's chief scientist who has launched a review of its lists.

This handout picture provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare on Thursday and taken in October 2003 shows polar bears standing on Russia's Wrangel island, located in the Arctic Ocean. Cites members shunned calls to ban international trade in polar bears, despite growing fears for the world's largest carnivorous land animal. (Photo by AFP / International Fund for Animal Welfare / N Ovsyanikov)

The meeting also rejected a ban on international trade in polar bears amid fears it would distract from the bigger threat of global warming.

The proposal had divided conservationists, who agree that the main risk to the world's largest carnivorous land animal comes from habitat loss but differ over whether international trade also puts the bears at risk of extinction.

Polar bears are widely seen as the animal on the front line of global warming and will be hit-hard by melting polar ice caps.

"The polar bear is facing a grim future, and today brought more bad news,'' Dan Ashe, head of the US delegation which proposed the ban. He warned the polar bear population could decline by two-thirds by 2050.

"The continued harvest of polar bears to supply the commercial international trade is not sustainable," Mr Ashe said.

The ban was rejected by 42 votes to 38, with 46 abstentions among the nations who participated in the poll in Bangkok.

The proposal, which needed support from a two-thirds majority, can be re-examined at a plenary session of the 178 CIites member nations next week. A similar bid was unsuccessful at the last Cites meeting in 2010.

The animals are currently listed on Annex II of Cites, which imposes strict controls over their international trade.

About half of the roughly 800 polar bears killed each year end up in the international trade, mostly wild bears from Canada, according to expert estimates cited by the US.

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Writer: AFP
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