Unsustainable trade in wildlife is one of the central threats to biodiversity as it concerns thousands of plant and animal species, and can push them close to extinction. This issue affects a wide range of live animals and plants as well as a vast array of products derived from them, including food, fur, leather goods, musical instruments, timber, tourist souvenirs, perfumes, and medicines.

How can CITES help?

Wildlife trade is big business, estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually. As wildlife and its products cross borders between countries, extra efforts and international cooperation are necessary to regulate it and safeguard certain species from over-exploitation.

CITES accords protection to more than
30,000 species of animals and plants.

CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation. It entered into force in 1975 and today has 177 Parties. It is both a conservation treaty and a trade treaty. It aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and further contribute to the current extinction crisis.

Decisions taken at CITES meetings have not only ecological impacts but also strong economic and social ones: commercially-important species such as fish, which are commonly traded both for consumption and for use in aquaria, are gaining an increasingly prominent place on the Parties’ agenda. CITES’ decisions are legally binding and are accompanied by enforcement measures and sanctions.

How does CITES work?

CITES grants varying degrees of protection to more than 33,000 species of traded animals and plants, through a system of permits and certificates. The species of concern are included in one of three lists, which are called Appendices.

CITES Appendices
Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in these plants and animals is permitted only in exceptional circumstances, such as for research.
Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be controlled in order to avoid threats to their survival.
Appendix III lists species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked for assistance in controlling the trade.

How is CITES work related to the Convention on Biological Diversity?

Implementing decisions taken by the CITES Convention requires ensuring links to other relevant biodiversity conventions. The link with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is particularly strong. CITES helps to protect wild animals and plants threatened by global trade and safeguard their natural environments, which helps to fulfill the objectives of the CBD: conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. The work of CITES is therefore essential to support achievement of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. In turn, the activities of the CBD also complement the work of CITES.

What is IUCN’s role with CITES?

IUCN was instrumental in creating CITES and it has attended and contributed to CITES meetings since the inception of the agreement. The Convention itself began as a result of a resolution that was passed at an IUCN meeting in Nairobi in 1963. 

For every CITES conference, IUCN together with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, prepares the Analyses of the Proposals to Amend the Appendices. These are objective assessments of whether the proposals to change the listing of species meet the necessary trade and biological criteria.

A strong delegation of IUCN experts will be present at this year’s CITES conference in Bangkok, Thailand, providing scientific information on species status and helping the Parties make well-informed decisions. IUCN acts as an advocate for species conservation and the potential role that CITES can play in helping to support this.