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

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


International wildlife trade is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry with hundreds of millions of plants and animals traded annually. Live plants and animals, timber, textiles, food products, leather, and medicines are traded on the world market every day. Most of this trade is legal and does not threaten the survival of the various species of flora or fauna involved. Some of the international wildlife trade, however, involves the trade of endangered plants or animals or products derived from them.

Since 1850, trade barriers between countries fell and transportation of goods became easier and cheaper, leading to a rise in the international wildlife trade. By the mid-twentieth century, the international community became concerned about the effects that the international wildlife trade had on endangered plant and animal species. Consequently, in 1973, the international community worked together and adopted the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES has been instrumental in conservation efforts over the last 35 years. In fact, only one species protected under CITES has become extinct.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Throughout the early- and mid-twentieth century, the exploitation of wild flora and fauna, along with the destruction of ecosystems, resulted in many species becoming endangered or extinct. The trade of endangered species often crossed international boundaries. The international aspect of the trade limited the ability of nations to effectively control the flow of endangered species into and out of their countries.

In 1963, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to conservation of the environment, passed a resolution calling on all nations to work together to protect endangered species. As a result, in 1973, 80 nations adopted CITES, an agreement to regulate the international trade of endangered plants and animals. CITES went into effect in 1975. CITES has widespread international support with 172 parties to the convention.

Participation in CITES is voluntary, but once a nation becomes a party to CITES, that nation is legally bound under the convention. CITES does not replace national laws, however, but provides a framework for countries to follow. Each nation that is a party to CITES is responsible for adopting its own laws to achieve the goals of CITES.

The most important parts of CITES are Appendix I and Appendix II. Appendix I lists specific plant and animal species that are so endangered that live specimens or products cannot be traded between nations except in rare circumstances. Appendix II lists plant and animal species that may be threatened with extinction without regulation of trade. Parties to CITES that wish to trade species listed in Appendix II must show that the trade will be sustainable through regulation.

Parties to CITES meet every two or three years to determine which species will be placed on Appendix I and Appendix II. Appendix I currently lists over 800 species, including gorillas, chimpanzees, giant pandas, Asian elephants, Asian lions, and tigers. Appendix II currently lists over 32,000 species, including African lions and the American black bear.

CITES also contains Appendix III, which lists species that are protected in at least one country. A country may request that a particular species be included in Appendix III. Once a species is listed under Appendix III, trade of that species is only regulated with regards to


ECOSYSTEM: The community of individuals and the physical components of the environment in a certain area.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: A species that is vulnerable to extinction.

EXTINCT: No longer in existence. In geology, it can be used to mean a process or structure that is permanently inactive (e.g., an extinct volcano).

FAUNA: The animal life existing in a defined area.

FLORA: The plant life of an area.

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION (NGO): A voluntary organization that is not part of any government; often organized to address a specific issue or perform a humanitarian function.

SPECIES: A biological classification group ranked below genus, consisting of related organisms capable of interbreeding.

THREATENED SPECIES: A species that is likely to become an endangered species over all or much of its range.

the particular country (or countries) requesting inclusion under Appendix III.

Issues and Impacts

With 172 nations participating, CITES is one of the most important international conservation agreements. Relatively few species out of the tens of thousands of species that have been listed under Appendices I and II over the past 35 years have become extinct in the wild. Despite its success and high participation rate, CITES still has critics.

Some critics assert that CITES often undermines its own conservation efforts in three major ways. First, placing a particular species of flora or fauna on Appendix I or II can lead to an increase in its value on the black market. An increase in value results in increased poaching and illegal sale of that species. The most notable example of this phenomenon occurred when the South African white rhinoceros was protected under CITES. Inclusion of the South African white rhinoceros led to in an increase in the price of ivory and a corresponding increase in poaching. Second, critics assert that split grouping of a species may lead to laundering of plants and animals. Split grouping occurs when a species is placed on Appendix I in one country and Appendix II in another country. An animal captured or killed in the Appendix I country may then be taken to the Appendix II country for sale on the international market. Finally, CITES only addresses the trade of endangered species and does not address loss of habitat or other issues that may lead to extinction.

The lack of any method of international enforcement of CITES restricts its effectiveness. CITES requires individual countries to adopt their own laws and enforcement mechanisms to prevent the trade of endangered flora and fauna. CITES requires each nation to have laws prohibiting the trade of endangered species, penalties for those who trade in endangered species, laws providing for the confiscation of goods, and designated management and scientific authorities. Most of the 172 nations that are parties to CITES have adopted laws that prohibit the trade of endangered species. About half of all parties to CITES, however, fail in one of the other three areas required under CITES or do not have effective enforcement mechanisms in place.

Recently, the Conference of Parties, the body that governs CITES, has considered legalizing the international trade of tiger parts harvested from tigers bred in captivity even though tigers are listed on Appendix I.

Many conservation groups have objected to this plan for several reasons. First, this would result in tigers being killed instead of attempting to introduce the tigers bred in captivity into the wild. Second, allowing the trade of parts taken from tigers bred in captivity will make enforcement of the illegal trade in tiger parts more difficult to enforce.

See Also Conservation; Endangered Species; Extinction and Extirpation; Wildlife Protection Policies and Legislation



Reeve, Rosalind. Policing International Trade iEndangered Species: The Cites Treaty and Compliance. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2004.


Mahony, Dianne E. “The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna: Addressing Problems in Global Wildlife Trade Enforcement.” New England International and Comparative Law Annual 3 (1997).

Web Sites

CITES Secretariat. “Convention Text.” (accessed February 1, 2008).

U.K. CITES Authorities. “Convention on Trade in Endangered Species: UK.” (accessed February 1, 2008).

World Wildlife Fund. “Wildlife Trade: About CITES.” (accessed February 1, 2008).

Joseph P. Hyder