What does CITES stand for? 

Black Rhino, protected under CITES Appendix I, other than populations in South Africa and eSwatini, which are then under Appendix II, meaning you still can’t trade specimens of this animal.

CITES stands for: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

So what is CITES about exactly? 

CITES is an agreement between governments, which has aims to ensure that any trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not have an impact on that species survival. 

The background of CITES

CITES was first formed in the 1960s. It seems obvious now as to why something like this might be needed now with the plight of so many animals such as tigers, elephants, rhino and pangolin species all being threatened; however, back when it was set up, the discussions to regulate the trade of wildlife for conservation purposes was relatively new. 

The international wildlife trade (mostly illegal), is estimated to be worth billions of dollars on an annual basis, and it includes the trade of wild animal and plant specimens. The specimens can be found in a variety of different states to be sold in, ranging from live animals and plants, to many different products that have been derived from them. These products include food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. We can all surely think of animals that receive high levels of exploitation, along with high levels of habitat destruction, which is ultimately depleting their numbers hugely. There are many species that can be traded legally because they are not endangered, however, the agreement being in existence helps to ensure the sustainability of the trade in those species to safeguard them for the future. 

International cooperation to safeguard certain species is needed due to the trade in wild animals and plants crossing borders between countries, the cooperation of the countries helps to lower the risk of over-exploitation of certain species. CITES today offers varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species of animals and plants, no matter whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. 

CITES Appendices 

Giraffes are protected under CITES Appendix II

The CITES Appendices are lists of species that are assigned to one of the 3 appendices, depending on the level or types of protection that species needs from over-exploitation.

Appendix I species are the most endangered species among the CITES-listed animals and plants. These species are threatened with extinction and this CITES appendix prohibits the trade of any specimens of these species, except for where the purpose of trade is not commercial, such as for scientific research. The import and export of specimens in these exceptional cases can be authorized with the granting of both an import and export permit (or a re-export certificate). 

Appendix II listed species are not necessarily threated with extinction right now, but may become threatened with it if the trade is not closely controlled. This appendix also has “look-alike species” included, for example, species with specimens in trade that look remarkably like those species listed for conservation reasons. Although an import permit is not necessary for species listed under appendix II, they will need a granting of an export permit or re-export certificate to be granted for international trade of specimens. However, import permits maybe required in some countries that have tighter restrictions than CITES requires. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the authorities involved are satisfied that a number of conditions are met, and above all, the any trade of that specimen will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. 

Appendix III, the last CITES list category, is a list of species formed at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade of Appendix III species is allowed, only on the presentation of appropriate permits or certificates.

A Pangolin, listed as a CITES Appendix I species.

CITES Parties (Parties of the Convention) 

CITES is an international agreement to which States and regional economic integration organizations adhere voluntarily. States which have agreed to be bound to the Convention (‘joined’ CITES) are known as Parties. CITES is legally binding on the Parties involved – meaning they have to implement the convention – however, it does not take the place of national laws. A framework is provided to be respected by each Party, which then has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level. 

CITES has one of the largest membership numbers among conservation agreements, with 183 Parties signed up. 


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