The Washington lobbyist is tipsy and offers a backscratch. The man from Papua New Guinea boasts that his island features 33 of the world's 43 bird of paradise species. The Swiss bureaucraft loses his temper and begins shouting in Sweitzedeutch. A lady issues invitations to a worldwide conference on turtles.

It is all in a day's work at the convention on International Trade in Endangered Fauna and Flora. In a luxury hotel in this tropical city, delegates from 50 coutries have assembled to argue over a treaty to protect 982 rare forms of life.

For a week they have sat sweating in a large room at long, red-clothed tables between earphones that relay simultaneous translations in Spanish and English-and French (because the French insist). Like vultures around an elephant herd, NGO's ("Non-Government Organizations" in treaty parlance) swarm about, lobbying for and against orchid imports, primate experimentation, falconry, whaling, crocodile shoemaking and other pastimes. Environmental lobbyists outnumber the official Washington delegation and spend their time tying to persuade other countries to vote against U.S. positions.

In this transplanted, multinational bureaucratic jungle, the fittest species survive.

Species : Christine Gesell Stevens.

Genus : Environmentalist and special protectress of whales and other wild creatures.

Habitat : Georgetown strata of Washington society.

Animals may be chic, but Christine Stevens is all business. She wears sentible shoes, a khaki skirt, her gray hair wrapped in a bun. Her conversation is sprinkled with references to cetacea, felidae and other close friends. As president of the Animal Welfare Institute, she's the soft heart of the U.S. delegation, a stone-faced group intent on amending rules and regulations she would rather leave in force.

"If we want to keep on living in future generations, we can't go on wiping out species," she says. "We are unbalancing the ecosystem to such a point, the world will become uninhabitable. You have to have some quality in life as well as quantity. Natural forms of beauty should be preserved. Future generations will resent living on an impoverished earth because a lot of greedy people want to make some extra money."

She believes that most of the wildlife tradedd comes from underdeveloped countries is no reason to sanction it. "You're doing a big favor to the Third World countries by restricting trade," she says."They can't control their poachers and vicious middlemen. The poachers kill the park wardens which is not awfully nice."She anyone suggest it might be elitist to preach conservation, she sternly replies, "the elitism is buying ivory bracelets and spotted cat furs. The elite want to decorate themselves and their homes in products that make marvelous animals extinct."

Scorn is draped, albeit in gracious tones, on France, Italy and Germany as the "worst offenders" in importing spotted cat skins sand endangered live animals. As for the Safari Club, a group of wealthy hunters "which wants to hang orangutan heads on their walls," there's a look of horror and disgust. "It's incredible."

Species : Chao Chin-ju

Genus : Official representative of the People Republic of China.

Habitat : Ministry of Forestry, Peking.

Four Chinese delegates sit around a table drinking Coke. They smile. They nod. They like being interviewed. Chao Chin-ju, the spokesman, wears a white shirt with cuffs and a turquoise silk-embroidered tie which, he says, he will "get rid of" when he returns to Peking. No Mao suits in sight.

"We have some species that are very rare but they are not endangered," he says.

What's the difference? one asks.

A lenghty discussion in Chinese ensues. "Some animals are very few but perhaps they are not in danger," he says. "About 120 species are prtected."

Why are they protected if they are not endangered? one asks.

Lenghty discussion in Chinese. "You can say they are endangered."

And how did the giant panda, golden monkey, river dolphin, white-lipped deer, Manchurian tiger and wild ass become endangered?

Chao Chin-ju explains. "Before liberation, all wild animals were unprotected.Numbers were reducing. After liberation, we paid much attention to wild animals. But in the past 10 years, as a result of interference and sabotage by Lin Piao and the Gang of Four, many wild animals were damaged."

How were they damaged exactly?

"The Gang of Four committed crimes in all aspects, including damage of wild animals. For instance, some natural reserves were damaged, they destroyed all regulations concerning conservation of wild animals. Some people killed many animals."

How many?

"It is difficult to tell you statistics at present. That is because of interference and sabotage by Lin Piao and the Gang Of Four."

You poeple blame everything on the Gang of Four, one suggests in lighthearted moment.

Silence. No smiles. No nods.

Species : Stephen S. Boynton.

Genus : Lawyer/lobbyist, American Fur Industry and the Fur Conservation Institute.

Habitat: Suite 560, 1050 17th St. NW.

By the second day, Stephen Boynton was legend. He had, according to three witnesses, partaken generously of the convention's liquid hospitality the night before, kissed an unconsenting primate protectress, insulted the Africans and the Chinese and fallen into a large flower pot.

"He's my best lobbyist," quipped a Friends of Animals friend.

At the poolside bar he agrees to talk business.

I sued them [the U.S. government] on the bobcat," he says. "I'm the bad guy. I represent the alligators and the seals and the turtle? That girl over there. She blows my mind. She represents truth and justice. The Royal Humane Society of the last of the Mohicans."

Boynton lights a cigarette and orders another round of drinks for the tourists nearby. "Environmental groups believe that if animals starve to death, God will it, Every time we go to court we win on the facts. There should be management programs that allow the taking of animals whether or not they are commercially disposed of. I can give you examples of deer herds starved to death, seals whose rookeries are so large that the pups are crushed from overpopulation. . .

"The fur industry is facing the bureaucracy. It's destroying the commercial aspect of trade. We put in for a permit and it's 120 days before we get it back.We don't have to be the shaggy dog for the world."

What about trading endangered species?

"The American fur industry does not deal in endangered species. And if one of our members is naughty-that's spelled N-a-u-g-h-t-y-we don't buy them a beer."

Species : Grenville Lucas.

Genus : United kingdom delegate and special patron of precarious plants.

Habitat : Kew Gardens herbarium.

All animals are predators. As far as I'm concerned, they can drop dead." Lucas, chairman of the threatened plants committee ofthe International Union for the Conservation of Nature and National Resources, is only kidding a little

He sits in the conference, redcheeked and mustachioed , looking like a portly Peter Sellers. "In '73, I got all the orchids and cacti put on the convention while nobody noticed. There are 20,000 orchid species. Noe I'm painted as the bad man of the horticulture trade. It's worth millions of dollars a year. No [party to the treaty] is allowed to export listed plants without permits."

Lucas suspiciously eyes the lobbyist for the American Orchid Society. "He's there to remove as many genera from the convention as possible. They get in his way. He sees me as a bloody nuisance. Conservation and science go out the window here. We're talking about politics."

Lucas bemoans the treaty's lack of enforcement. The U.S. Agriculture Department, for instance, has budgeted no funds for the purpose, although "vast numbers" of endangered plants are being imported.

He has a solution. "People will pay $2,000 for a rare orchid. The way to break that is to commercially produce tens of thousands of the wretched things. Plants aren't like people. You don't need consenting adults to produce large numbers. If developing countries used the areas their national parks to propagate rare plants, they could use the money to pay for wardens. Unfortunately, it's cheaper to steal from the wild."

Lucas says 20 to 30 orchids are almost extinct, but he won't tell which one. "As soon as you put a name on them, people will want them." As for himself, he owns no plants and "I hate gardening."

Species : Clark Bavin. . .

Genus : Prosecutor.

Habitat : U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Clark Bavin is a cop. Lean, muscular, reserved, he battles in the shadow world of false coduments and laundered shipments. The cargo is neither drugs nor weapons, but animals, dead and alive.

Bavin volunteers no opinions. only facts.

"Recently, we seized 18,000 cat skins on the Mexican Border. Worth $1.2 million. . . there's a big trade in endangered parrots. They come in by plane from Mexico with fake documents, or they come in the door panels of automobiles, stuffed in a nylon sock. They stay quiet that way, and it doesn't kill them. . . we've found alligator hides in crates labeled machine parts."

Bavin confirms that a connection exists between the drug and animal trade. "A smuggler is a smuggler whether it's diamons, furs or dope. They'll bring in a paneload of dope from Colombiand take back some alligator skins. They'll mix a shipment-drugs in a burlap bag of poisonous snakes. . . A soldier once shipped a cat rug to St. Louis from Vietnam. One of our agents thought the head was too heavy. It contained five pounds of heroin."