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Global wildlife conference gives better protection to hundreds of threatened animals, plants

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BANGKOK - A 12-day global wildlife conference concluded on Thursday after granting better protection to hundreds of threatened animal and plant species.

More than 1,000 delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora voted to introduce trade regulations for vulnerable animal species such as sharks, manta rays, tortoises and turtles, and rejected proposals that would have allowed three species of crocodiles to be traded internationally.

CITES meets every three years to discuss how to regulate trade in plants and animals to ensure the survival of more than 35,000 species. CITES delegates represent 178 governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations and groups speaking for indigenous peoples.

CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said this year's conference in Bangkok was "a watershed moment" for the organization in realizing the seriousness of wildlife crime and toughening measures against it.

Five shark species are under severe threat because of the voracious market for shark fins, an expensive delicacy in Asia.

"This is a major win for some of the world's most threatened shark species, with action now required to control the international trade in their fins," said Susan Lieberman of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization. "Today was the most significant day for the ocean in the 40-year history of CITES."

Conservationists also placed controls on a range of rosewood and ebony wood from Asia, Central America and Madagascar that are exploited by illegal logging.

Not all proposals for protecting animals were adopted. A U.S. proposal to ban the international trade of polar bears failed to garner the two-thirds of votes needed to pass, while the convention was criticized for failing to issue strong measures against elephant poaching.

Host country Thailand and seven other Asian and African nations were criticized by CITES for failing to adequately crack down on the ivory trade and were asked to come up with "national action plans" with targets to curb the trade across and within their borders. They must meet those targets or face trade sanctions next year.

"Any discussions on legalizing trade in wildlife products — be it ivory, rhino horns, or tiger parts — accomplishes only one thing, which is stimulating demand," Mary Rice, executive director of the British-based Environmental Investigation Agency, said in a statement. "Such rhetoric must cease immediately if we are to reverse the trend toward extinction of these and other species."

The next meeting is to be held in 2016 in South Africa.

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