By the middle of the 20th century, governments were beginning to recognize that trade in some wild animals and plants had a devastating impact on those species. These species were being driven toward extinction through unsustainable use for food, fuel, medicine and other purposes.
While individual government could control what happened within their borders, they had no authority over the impacts of international trade in their species.
In 1973, 21 countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES (pronounced SITE-EASE), in Washington, DC. With this agreement, nations pledged to follow rules to monitor, regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.
After four decades, CITES remains one of the cornerstones of international conservation with 175 member countries and trade regulated in more than 34,000 species. Representatives of CITES nations meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties where progress is reviewed and adjustments are made to the list of protected species, which is grouped into three categories with different levels of protection:
- Appendix I: Includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. Trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except for rare cases such as scientific research.
- Appendix II: Contains species like hippopotamus and many corals that are not yet threatened with extinction but which could become threatened if unlimited trade were allowed. Also included are “look-alike” species that closely resemble those already on the list for conservation reasons. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules.
- Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a specific country can be placed on Appendix III if that country requires cooperation from other nations to help prevent illegal exploitation.
CITES also brings together law enforcement officers from wildlife authorities, national parks, customs and police agencies to collaborate on efforts to combat wildlife crime targeted at animals such as elephants and rhinos.
Bold action in Bangkok
This year, WWF urges governments to recognize the serious nature of wildlife crime and take strong action at the 16th Conference of the Parties hosted in the Thai capital city of Bangkok from 3-24 March 2013.
As poaching of rhinos and elephants reaches crisis levels, parties should be prepared to assess countries’ compliance with rhino and elephant resolutions and to recommend a suspension of trade in CITES-listed species for countries where progress is not made.
WWF is urging governments to support all proposals relating to sharks and manta rays. These species take a long time to reach maturity and produce relatively few young in their lifetime so they are extremely vulnerable to overfishing.
WWF supports the regulation of trade in Madagascar’s ebony and rosewood species, which have been massively impacted by illegal logging. We also support proposals to tighten trade rules for Latin American rosewood species, and for freshwater turtles and tortoises in North America and Asia.
WWF and TRAFFIC provide important scientific and technical support to CITES and work with member countries to implement legislation and regulations on CITES, and to ensure that those laws are effectively enforced.
Read More about WWF's Positions on Priority Agenda Items for CITES COP16 (PDF)