Jay Vannini wrote:
> Greetings, fellow aroid-amig@s:
> Perhaps because I reside in a country where differences of opinion are
> expressed via Molotov cocktails and automatic weapons' fire, I really do
> relish a civil debate. Thus far, this exchange seems to be just this, in
> spite of unambiguous differences of opinion on the forum regarding Jos?
> Portillo's alleged actions.
> Steve Marak has spoken a mouthful when he says that no-one's
> opinion/position ever seems to change during these arguments on the internet
> forums; he is quite correct, probably because it is an incredibly complex
> issue that sparks strong emotions from wild-eyed plant collectors and less
> fanatical gardeners alike. Having worked around tropical flora and fauna
> quite a bit, I have come to the conclusion that there are a number of groups
> that inspire the most incredible acquisitive lust from some of the human
> populace (including me). They are cacti & succulents, cycads, orchids,
> psittacine birds, raptors utilized in falconry, and reptiles & amphibia. All
> are well-represented in the CITES appendices, most generate huge commercial
> trade figures, and all generate a considerable amount of acrimony when their
> exploitation and protection is discussed. Having seen both sides of the
> trade of all of the above, I would have to refute the statement made here
> that persons genuinely interested in conservation would NEVER knowingly
> violate the laws designed to protect wild plants and animals. No surprise -
> many professionals can see shades of gray, when it is convenient to do so
> for their own ends.
> As for us sauntering into less-developed countries and cleaning out cultural
> patrimony with a song on our lips - come on, read the papers or watch the
> news, brother - that's EXACTLY what is done, and the debate about this has
> been going on for at least 200 years. Almost every one of the western
> world's major museums has this kind of ethical/legal thorn in its side
> relating to "filched" Greco-roman, precolombian, Egyptian or Khmer artifacts
> (e.g. the Elgin Marbles and the British Museum) and the number of returns to
> countries of origin are, to put it mildly, not breathtaking.
> Reggie Whitehead prefaced his comments about the tragic destruction of
> ancient forest in Borneo with a clear and eloquently expressed example of
> the existence of bad laws that were widely applauded by Joe Public in their
> heyday. CITES, while not a bad law, continues to be misunderstood by both
> the general populace and bureaucrats. It is a trade monitoring treaty, not a
> wildlands conservation tool, nor a "red" list where species NOT threatened
> by commercial trade, but rather by habitat loss, belong. Born as the
> Washington Convention, I have heard it referred to as the love child of
> well-meaning wildlife preservationists and the worst elements of the
> European reptile hide trade. While I definitely agree that CITES has its
> merits, one has to question its efficacy as a trade reduction mechanism,
> since the U.S. has recently had to enact ADDITIONAL legislation specifically
> designed to prohibit import of tiger and rhino "spare parts", already
> covered under CITES (both groups are conspicuous on App. I). The USFWS is
> the government body charged with overseeing the implementation of CITES
> regulations in the U.S. Their law enforcement division by and large does
> some incredibly good work, but like any police force, has its share of
> zealots and creeps. As long as the general populace believes that wild plant
> and animal collectors are all hybrids of Hitler and Jabba the Hut,
> prosecutors will feel inspired to persecute them, little and big guy alike.
> It is, after all, much easier to point the finger at wildlife/plant
> smugglers as being the only culprits leading organisms down the path to
> extinction than at ourselves as the principal consumers of tropical products
> harvested from, or grown on, deforested landscapes.
> On another front, CITES has many quirks, one of which is the "look-alike"
> provision, which basically provides blanket protection to non-threatened
> organisms that are visually similar to the "threatened" target. This
> includes some common cycads, many abundant orchids, roadside weed Nepenthes
> species, etc. This really does seem silly. Likewise, the auctioning of
> seized wildlife products by the USFWS once they have served their
> evidentiary role is simple bloody hypocrisy. Like Kenya has done with its
> seized poached ivory stocks - torch this stuff if it's a *point* that you
> want to make, rather than a *buck*.
> I admit that I feel genuine sympathy for anyone who gets busted for bending
> the rules when it relates to this particular issue. Grimace at this ethical
> lapse if you must. At the same time, I understand that law enforcement has a
> job to do, and that society has decided that these are the rules we are
> supposed to play by. If it is true that Portillo admitted on tape to
> "fudging" the origin of a protected plant, I suspect that he's in a heap of
> trouble, if not in the U.S., certainly in Ecuador, where his local authority
> is going to end up with egg on its face. Ecuagenera is, as I pointed out in
> a previous post, a well-known orchid exporter, and he is going to have a
> hard time pleading ignorance of the rules of the game. Bummer - one should
> always remember the 11th Commandment (just kidding, Big Brother).
> Who is on the "right" side of the "gray market poaching" debate remains to
> be seen. I try to remain neutral, but I do suspect that history will show us
> to have been sanctimonious twits who sat around and earnestly debated the
> gender of angels against a backdrop of the world's natural patrimony going
> up in smoke.
> Peace -