Monday, June 24, 2013

New conservation treaty to protect cetaceans, primates?

This week, we learn that Iceland is resuming hunting fin whales, an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In addition to the CITES listing, the species is protected by the moratorium enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).  Iceland is a signatory to CITES and an IWC member nation.  Iceland argues the animals are not endangered, as Norway and Japan argue for the minke whale. (Iceland, like Japan, has also hunted minkes under the IWC's "scientific whaling" loophole.)
What animals should humans hunt? Some argue "none," or "no mammals," as there is always pain for the animal: some argue "none that are endangered" or "none which have displayed possible sentience."
I'd like to condense those ideas into a short, simple treaty that draws a bright line and makes it simple to say what's ok and what is not: Call it the Primate And Cetacean Treaty (PACT).  PACT would essentially rest atop (and cut across) the more complex CITES agreement, which goes into individual species and populations.
PACT is very simple:
 - No hunting of any primate or cetacean for meat, trophies, money, or the conversion of land to other uses.
 - All nation-states halt and ban such hunting, or the products of such hunting, one year from the treaty receiving enough ratifications to be in force.
 - All nations agree to ban trade in primate/cetacean products from non-signatory nations.
 - All nations are pledged to protect these animals in their territories, in maritime zones, and from their own ships and citizens when on the high seas.
 - An exception is allowed for mercy killing (e.g., a stranded whale that can't be refloated.)
 - Indigenous hunting of cetaceans to be phased out over ten years.

Since it's hard to figure out who crosses some threshold of sentience or intelligence (it's not like we know simple ways to judge the brainpower of a spider monkey or an Irawaddy dolphin), let's draw the line where it's easy to enforce. Cetaceans and primates are smart, have family bonds important to their species' survival, and are among the most endangered groups.  Also, no human society is dependent on these species for its existence - not any more.  There will be economic pain and disrupted traditions involving some indigenous societies. (I don't think the effects on Norway, Japan, and Iceland rise to the level of serious economic and cultural impacts, although they would argue differently.)  These impacts are real, and they matter, but there are no non-painful ways to protect the most advanced and endangered species of our fellow mammals. The only way to be sure no primates or cetaceans are being taken or traded is to completely protect those two orders.
You can argue this should be expanded (to elephants, perhaps, as the next addition), but we have to start somewhere, and these are the species we should be able to agree on most easily - that is, if we want to prove we're sentient.

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