Your Ultimate Guide to CITES

In the lead up to the upcoming CITES CoP17 conference in South Africa, My Green World has created a guide that will assist you in understanding this landmark conservation event.


Your Ultimate Guide to CITES

By Natalie Kyriacou


The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September to 5 October 2016 at the Sandton Convention Center. This will be the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held on the African continent since CITES came into force, but the first on the continent since 2000.


CITES, or “the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna” – is an international treaty between governments that was drawn up in 1973. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.

CITES is one of the largest and oldest conservation and sustainable use agreements in existence. Participation is voluntary, and countries that have agreed to be bound by the Convention are known as Parties. CITES provides a framework respected by each Party, which must adopt their own domestic legislation to implement CITES at the national level. Often, domestic legislation is either non-existent (especially in Parties that have not ratified it), or with penalties with the gravity of the crime and insufficient deterrents to wildlife traders.


There are 182 Parties to CITES, which are essentially the countries that have agreed to be bound by the Convention. Australia is one of these Parties to CITES.

The Secretary-General of the CITES Secretariat is John E. Scanlon.

Click here for more information on the organisational structure of CITES.



Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines.

Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.
Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation.


CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. All import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorised through a licensing system.

Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering that licensing system and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species.
The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need. (For additional information on the number and type of species covered by the Convention click here).

Today, CITES accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animal and plant, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.


Countries (referred to as parties) adhere voluntarily to the CITES agreement. Although CITES is legally binding on the parties it does not take the place of national laws but rather provides a framework for domestic legislation.

Member countries are responsible for enforcing CITES. In most countries, customs officers enforce CITES regulations. Governments must also submit reports, including trade records, to the CITES Secretariat in Switzerland.

To ensure effective enforcement at the international level, the Secretariat acts as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information and liaison between the parties and with other authorities and organisations.



The CITES COP, or ‘Conference of the Parties’ is the governing body of CITES. Conferences of the Parties to CITES are held approximately every three years. The last CITES CoP (CoP16) was held in March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to representatives from CITES Parties, representatives of the Secretariat to CITES, and non-government organisations may also attend the CITES CoP. Only CITES Parties may decide on proposals presented at the CoP.



Approximately 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are regulated under CITES. Species are listed on one of three appendices to CITES based on their conservation status and risk from trade.

CITES operates three main classifications for species. Appendices I, II and III to the Convention are lists of species afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation by the CITES parties.
♣ Appendix I – No international trade permitted  unless in exceptional non-commercial circumstances. This list includes species that are threatened with extinction.
♣ Appendix II – Limited trade is allowed under specific conditions. This list includes species that may not be threatened with extinction, however, regulation of trade is necessary to ensure their ongoing survival and viability. International trade must be underpinned by a sustainability assessment determined by the country of export.
♣ Appendix III- A list of species put forward by at least one Party which already regulates its trade, but has asked for cooperation from others to do this effectively. International trade in these species is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.

The CITES COP provides a forum to:

• Review progress in the conservation of species listed under CITES
• Consider, and where appropriate adopt, proposals to amend the lists of species under CITES
• Recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention
• Make provisions (including budget matters) necessary to allow the CITES Secretariat to function effectively.


Some of the topics/proposals to be discussed for amendment this year include:

♣ Transfer all African populations of lion (Panthera leo) from Appendix II to Appendix I

♣ Transfer 5 species of pangolin from CITES Appendix II to CITES Appendix I

♣ The inclusion of all populations of Loxodonta africana (African elephant) in Appendix I through the transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I of the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe

♣ Transfer African Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) from Appendix II to Appendix I

♣ Include the pygmy chameleon (genera Rhampholeon spp. and Rieppeleon spp.) in Appendix II

♣ Include Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) in Appendix II

♣ Include Grandidier’s baobab (Adansonia grandidieri) in Appendix II only for seeds, fruits, oil and live plants and annotate the listing to this effect

♣ To alter the existing annotation on the Appendix II listing of Swaziland’s white rhino, adopted at the 13th Conference of Parties in 2004, so as to permit a limited and regulated trade in white rhino horn which has been collected in the past from natural deaths, or recovered from poached Swazi rhino, as well as horn to be harvested in a non-lethal way from a limited number of white rhino in the future in Swaziland.

Click here to see the full list.


This year, My Green World will be Hosting Melbourne’s Global March for Elephants,  Rhino & Lions alongside For the Love of Wildlife. The March, which will be held in over 125 cities around the world, will take place in Melbourne on Saturday, September 24. Hundreds of wildlife advocates will be gathering at Alexandra Gardens at 11am to march in support of lions, elephants and rhinos. Click here to register your interest!
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