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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975)

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), was signed in 1973 and came into force in 1975. The aim of the treaty is to prevent international trade in listed endangered or threatened animal and plant species and products made from them. A full-time, paid secretariat to administer the treaty was initially funded by the United Nations Environmental Program, but has since been funded by the parties to the treaty. By 2002, 158 nations had become party to CITES, including most of the major wildlife trading nations, making CITES the most widely accepted wildlife conservation agreement in the world. The parties to the treaty meet every two years to evaluate and amend the treaty if necessary.

The species covered by the treaty are listed in three appendices, each of which requires different trade restrictions. Appendix I applies to "all species threatened with extinction," such as African and Asian elephants (Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus, the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus ), and Queen Alexandria's birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera alexandrae ). Commercial trade is generally prohibited for the over 900 listed species. Appendix II applies to "all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation," such as the polar bear, giant clams, and Pacific Coast mahogany. Trade in these species requires an export permit from the country of origin. Currently, over 4,000 animals and 22,000 plants (mainly orchids) are listed in Appendix II. Appendix III is designed to help individual nations control the trade of any species. Any species may be listed in Appendix III for any nation. Once listed, any export of this species from the listing country requires an export permit. Usually a species listed in Appendix III is protected within that nation's borders. These trade restrictions apply only to signatory nations, and only to trade between countries, not to practices within countries.

CITES relies on signatory nations to pass domestic laws to carry out the principles included in the treaty. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act include domestic requirements to implement CITES, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is the chief enforcement agency. In other nations, if and when such legislation is passed, effective implementation of these domestic laws is required. This is perhaps the most problematic aspect of CITES, since most signatory nations have poor administrative capacity, even if they have strong desire for enforcement. This is especially a problem in poorer nations of the world, where monies for regulation of trade in endangered species is forced down the agenda by more pressing social and economic issues.

CITES can be regarded as moderately successful. There has been steady progress toward compliance with the treaty, though tremendous enforcement problems still exist. Due to the international scope and size of world wildlife trade, enforcement of CITES is estimated to be only 6065% effective worldwide. International trade in endangered species is still big business; the profits from such trade can be huge. In 1988, the world market for exotic species was estimated to be $5 billion, $1.5 billion of which was estimated to be illegal. Among the most lucrative products traded are reptile skins, fur coats, and ingredients for traditional drugs. If violations are discovered, the goods are confiscated and penalties and fines for the violators are established by each country. Occasionally, sanctions are imposed on a nation if it flagrantly violates the convention.

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Fitzgerald, S. International Wildlife Trade: Whose Business Is It? Washington, DC: World Wildlife Fund, 1989.

McCormick, J. Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Nichol, J. The Animal Smugglers. New York: Facts on File, 1987.


CITES Secretariat, International Environment House, Chemin des Anémones , Châtelaine, Geneva Switzerland CH-1219 (+4122) 917-8139/40, Fax: (+4122) 797-3417, Email: [email protected], <>

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