An international wildlife conference has moved to enact some of the most significant protection for sharks, songbirds and scores of turtles, lizards and frogs.

The meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) ended on Friday in Panama. Along with protections for more than 500 species, delegates at the UN wildlife conference rejected a proposal to reopen the ivory trade. An ivory ban was enacted in 1989.

“Good news from Cites is good news for wildlife as this treaty is one of the pillars of international conservation, imperative at ensuring countries unite at combating the global interrelated crises of biodiversity collapse, climate change, and pandemics,” said Susan Lieberman, the vice-president of international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Many of the proposals adopted here reflect there is ongoing over-exploitation and unsustainable trade, and escalating illegal trade, and some are due to complex interactions of other threats reducing species populations in the wild, including climate change, disease, infrastructure development and habitat loss.”

The international wildlife trade treaty, which was adopted 49 years ago in Washington, has been praised for helping stem the illegal and unsustainable trade in ivory and rhino horns as well as in whales and sea turtles.

But it has come under fire for its limitations, including its reliance on cash-strapped developing countries to combat the illegal trade that has become a lucrative £8bn-a-year business.

One of the biggest achievement this year was increasing or providing protection for more than 90 shark species, including 54 species of requiem sharks, bonnethead sharks and three species of hammerhead shark, and 37 species of guitarfish, a shark-like ray. Many species had never before had trade protection and now, under the treaty’s appendix II, the commercial trade will be regulated.

Global shark populations are declining, with annual deaths due to fisheries reaching about 100 million. The sharks are sought mostly for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup, a popular delicacy in China and elsewhere in Asia.

“These species are threatened by the unsustainable and unregulated fisheries that supply the international trade in their meat and fins, which has driven extensive population declines,” said Rebecca Regnery, the senior director for wildlife at Humane Society International.

“With appendix II listing, Cites parties can allow trade only if it is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild, giving these species help they need to recover from over-exploitation.”

The conference also enacted protections for dozens of species of turtles, lizards and frogs including glass frogs, whose translucent skin made them a favourite in the pet trade. Several species of songbirds also got trade protection.

A new glass frog species recently discovered in Ecuador
A new glass frog species recently discovered in Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/Ecuador Ministry of the Environment/EPA

“Already under immense ecological pressure resulting from habitat loss, climate change and disease, the unmanaged and growing trade in glass frogs is exacerbating the already existing threats to the species, said Danielle Kessler, the US director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “This trade must be regulated and limited to sustainable levels to avoid compounding the multiple threats they already face.”

Some African countries and conservation groups had hoped to ban the trade in hippos. But it was opposed by the EU, some African countries and several conservation groups, who argue that many countries have healthy hippo populations and trade is not a factor in their decline.

“Globally cherished mammals such as rhinos, hippos, elephants and leopards didn’t receive increased protections at this meeting while a bunch of wonderful weirdos won conservation victories,” said Tanya Sanerib, the international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the midst of a heart-wrenching extinction crisis, we need global agreement to fight for all species, even when it’s contentious.”

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