CITES votes to ban trade in two endangered otter species

Hunters and fishermen are killing the adults and snatching the baby otters to meet the growing demand
Hunters and fishermen are killing the adults and snatching the baby otters to meet the growing demand

A trade ban is looming for two endangered otter species after some 100 countries voted to increase protections following a social-media fuelled craze for acquiring the silky mammals as pets.

Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted overwhelmingly in Geneva Sunday to place the smooth-coated otter on the treaty's most endangered list. On Monday they voted to do the same for the Asian small-clawed otter.

Conservationists hailed the vote, insisting a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, which have seen numbers in the wild plummet by at least 30 percent in the past 30 years.

This decline is believed to have accelerated significantly in recent years with a fad in Asia, and Japan in particular, of keeping otters as pets.

"This is an important conservation victory," Matthew Collis, policy chief at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said in a statement.

He said he hoped the move would "send an important message to unscrupulous traders, add further trade controls and enhance scrutiny of captive-breeding operations".

The votes were to move the two otter species from CITES Appendix II, where international trade must be regulated and monitored for sustainability, to Appendix I, where all international trade is banned.

They still need to be approved in a plenary session before the 12-day conference wraps up on Wednesday.

Sumanth Bindumadhav of Humane Society International hailed the decision to move the two species to Appendix I.

In a statement, he said he hoped the move would "send an important and timely warning, not least to online and social media audiences, that these are imperilled species and that trade in them is harmful to their welfare and their overall species survival."

'Otter cafes' feed demand

All Asian otter species have long been listed as vulnerable or endangered after decades of shrinking habitats and illegal trade in their pelts.

But conservationists say the recent surge in social media hype around the creatures has sparked such a frenzied demand for baby otters in Asia that it could drive entire species towards extinction.

To meet the growing demand hunters and fishermen, especially in Indonesia and Thailand, are increasingly killing adult otters and snatching the babies, which are caged and shipped off to become exotic pets.

The main destination is Japan, where one otter pup can fetch up to $10,000 (about 9,000 euros).

Several "otter cafes" have also popped up in the country, with patrons urged to buy small pieces of food to feed the caged mammals and to snap a selfie with them while drinking a coffee.

Countries also voted Monday to move the Indian Star Tortoise—another species being decimated by high demand in the exotic pet trade—to Appendix I.

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© 2019 AFP

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