Sea Save Foundation BLOG

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What is CITES? We’ve all heard of it I’m sure, but not all of us completely understand what it is. To start off, CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which was formed in 1975. It is an international agreement between governments with the aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Due to the fact that the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to make sure the species are not overexploited. 
 How do they do that, you ask? Well, that’s a great question!

According to their website, “CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls.” Basically, all imports and exports of species covered by the convention have to be authorized through a licensing system. Each party (or country) to the convention has to designate one or more Management Authorities who will be in charge of administering the systems, and they also have to have scientific authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the species.

Now, on their website, it states that the species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, which are according to the degree of protection they need. In Appendix, I, species threatened with extinction are included and trade of these species is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. In Appendix II, species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction are listed but, trade must be controlled in order to avoid problems with their survival.

So now, I’m sure your next question would be, how do they figure which species to put in these two Appendices, right? Another excellent question!  They have a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in either Appendix I or II. So then, in each regular meeting, parties (countries) submit proposals based on the criteria stated above in order to amend the two Appendices; they are then discussed and put into a vote.
In Appendix III, species that are protected in at least one country are placed. Notice, however, that changes to Appendix III follow a different procedure from the two prior appendices. Each party (country) is entitled to make unilateral amendments to it, meaning they can make changes to it without the consent of all of the other parties (countries) but they can only do this if proper documentation has been obtained and presented. 

There are many rules and restrictions for all of the species in all of the Appendices, but as always, there are exceptions to the rules. Here are the exceptions, straight from the CITES website:
  • for specimens in transit or being transhipped [see Resolution Conf. 9.7 (Rev. CoP15)];
  • for specimens that were acquired before CITES provisions applied to them (known as pre-Convention specimens, see Resolution Conf. 13.6);
  • for specimens that are personal or household effects [see Resolution Conf. 13.7 (Rev. CoP14)];
  • for animals that were ‘bred in captivity’ [see also Resolution Conf. 10.16 (Rev.)];
  • for plants that were ‘artificially propagated’ [see also Resolution Conf. 11.11 (Rev. CoP15)];
  • for specimens that are destined for scientific research;
  • for animals or plants forming part of a traveling collection or exhibition, such as a circus [see also Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15)].
Given that these are exceptions, does not mean they go without any laws. There are special rules and regulations in those cases and a permit or certificate will usually still be required. Now you are asking yourself, what happens when a specimen is transferred to a country that is a participating party from a country that is not? Another fabulous question! When that happens, the country that is a party can accept documentation equivalent to permits and certificates. See, that was simple!

So there you have it – a quick and concise explanation of what CITES is, and what they do! Stay tuned to the next blog where I will go deeper into CITES choices on placing Hammerhead sharks on their lists. 

By Susana Navajas