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

“This convention is one of the best tools we have for addressing international wildlife crime, and countries must hold each other accountable in order to make it even more effective. ”

Leigh Henry
Senior Policy Advisor, Species Conservation & Advocacy

What is CITES?

CITES, which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a global agreement between governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat. 

In the mid-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.

And while individual governments could control what happened within their borders, they did not have a way to address the impacts of international trade in these species. In 1973, 21 countries addressed this issue by signing the CITES agreement.

Conservation impacts
After four decades, CITES remains one of the cornerstones of international conservation. There are 183 member Parties and trade is regulated in more than 35,000 species. Representatives of CITES nations meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties to review progress and adjust the lists 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. International commercial trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except in 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 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 Geneva, Switzerland
In 2019, WWF urges governments to recognize the serious nature of wildlife crime and take strong action at the upcoming international endangered species talks—also known as the 18th Conference of the Parties—hosted in Geneva, Switzerland, from Aug 17-Aug 28.

WWF has a major role to play in the run-up to the talks and at the event itself. We will be focusing our advocacy and lobbying efforts on a few key listing proposals and a similar number of agenda items, including critical wildlife trade issues related to rhinos, elephants, tigers, pangolins, sharks, and rays. 

Since 2016, international momentum has been building against wildlife crime, with a number of actions and commitments from governments to combat wildlife trafficking. The world is clearly uniting against wildlife crime and the upcoming international meetings represent an opportunity to put these commitments into action through strong measures on illegal wildlife trade, corruption, demand reduction, and compliance. WWF will be pushing for the adoption of these proposals and calling for countries that fail to meet their commitments to be held to account under CITES, facing trade suspensions if necessary.

The agenda for these talks is the largest ever with a record 183 Parties and a record number of agenda items up for debate. It will be critical to ensuring the conservation of some of our most threatened and endangered species.