September 17, 2002

Cuba drops turtle export plan

                 By CNN's Gary Strieker

                 HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuba has decided not to seek the right to export
                 the shell of an endangered sea turtle.

                 The hawksbill turtle is protected by the international treaty, the Convention on
                 International Trade in Endangered Species, but Cuba had been considering seeking
                 an exemption.

                 Its decision to shelve plans to export 8 tons of turtle shell has been welcomed by

                 "We're obviously extremely pleased that Cuba has withdrawn this proposal because
                 this eliminates the threat that a legalised international trade would pose to this species,"
                 International Fund for Animal Welfare spokesperson Sarah Tyack said.

                 Wildlife scientists say many hawksbill turtle populations were seriously depleted
                 before the treaty was implemented to protect them.

                 Fishermen hunted the turtles for their shells, long used by craftsmen to make
                 jewelry, combs, spectacle frames, and art.

                 In Japan, where the government backed Cuba's move for exemption, the
                 centuries-old shell industry is dying out.

                 Without any imports for more than 10 years, their stocks are almost depleted. Cuba
                 wanted to sell its stockpile of shells to eager Japanese buyers, thereby keeping the
                 ancient craft alive and the craftsmen employed, for a few more years.

                 Craftsmen argue some hawksbill populations are not endangered and that
                 sustainable harvesting of turtles in selected areas will actually encourage people to
                 protect them.

                 But Cuba has backed off under growing pressure from conservationists, who say
                 only a complete moratorium on turtle shell trade will allow hawksbills to recover
                 worldwide. They claim any legalised sales create a cover for illegal trade.

                 "Once you give permission to sell this product on the international market, you're
                 merely creating a demand. It's similar to the ivory stockpiles in South Africa at the
                 moment," Tyack said.

                 Five southern African nations want permission to sell their stockpiles of elephant
                 ivory to Japan for a carving industry that is also running short on raw materials.

                 With turtle shell now off the agenda, elephant ivory will once again be the major
                 wildlife trade issue at the next treaty conference in Chile later this year.