BEIRUT: Lebanon joined one of the most important international conventions on endangered species Thursday, becoming the 178th country to do so.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will enter into force on May 26. It has been active since 1975 and regulates trade in both CITES-listed endangered species and animals or plants requested by specific countries.

An announcement from the convention’s secretariat said that 100 CITES-listed species live in Lebanon, including the red fox, jungle cat, dalmatian pelican, black stork, greater flamingo, Eurasian spoonbill, common jackal, common wolf and wild cat.

It added that CITES-listed trade with Lebanon consists mainly of raw corals, reptile skins, leather products and live plants, birds and tortoises.

Jason Mier, executive director of the nongovernmental organization Animals Lebanon, told The Daily Star the significance of Lebanon’s membership could not be downplayed.

“It’s not every day that a country joins an international convention, and as Lebanon is the 178th country to finally join, the vast majority of countries have already joined.”

Mier noted that Iraq now remains the only Middle Eastern country that has neither joined nor is in the process of joining the convention, with Bahrain now making inroads toward membership.

Animals Lebanon first approached the ministry about joining CITES in late 2009.

“Clearly there is a problem here [in Lebanon], CITES has put out information about infractions or suspicious trade of animals through Lebanon” in the past, Mier said. Now, Lebanon will be able to take a more active role in working with other countries to regulate trade and protect its own endangered species, he added.

While signing up to the convention is a vital step to protecting endangered flora and fauna, Mier said the passage of draft legislation – which Animals Lebanon announced alongside the Agriculture Ministry Thursday – would be a major factor in compliance.

Having reviewed the group’s original draft, the ministry will now accept public comments on the draft for the next 30 days. The law will be available on the websites of Animals Lebanon and the ministry.

“Despite the challenges Lebanon faces, [the] top of which is the well-being of citizens, there is nothing which forbids us from also working to make Lebanon a better country in relation to animal welfare,” Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said in a joint statement from the ministry and the campaign group.

“Our culture, our morals, and our Islamic and Christian religious values all call us to be kind to animals, just as economic, financial and health interests require us to enact legislation related to animals.”

Under the proposed law, only licensed pet shops, zoos, circuses and other establishments that use animals would be able to operate, and even then only under strict guidelines.

An online petition in support of Animals Lebanon’s campaign for animal protection and welfare legislation has garnered more than 27,900 signatures.

“We give this law our complete backing and will do everything in our power to ensure it is quickly enacted,” said Lana el-Khalil, Animals Lebanon’s president.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 01, 2013, on page 4. –

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