Spotlight on CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement signed in 1973. The Convention regulates international trade of threatened and endangered animals (live or dead), animal parts, and plants.
However, it is not an international agreement on the conservation of endangered species and does not prohibit killing endangered animals or require that nations protect habitat. The laws of an individual country determine whether it is legal to kill an animal or sell.
Under CITES, each protected species is assigned to one of three categories. Those listed in Appendix I are most vulnerable, and they may not be traded for commercial purposes. Species listed in Appendix II are less vulnerable but are still in need of protection from overexploitation.
They may be traded for commercial purposes, but their trade is strictly regulated. Export permits are required, and trade is not allowed to endanger the species’ survival.
Parties to CITES must agree to place a species on Appendix I or II. Decisions often are controversial, such as the decision to upgrade the elephant from Appendix II to Appendix I, prohibiting all trade of ivory. A single country may place a species on Appendix III, the least vulnerable category, when the country needs international assistance to restrict the market for that species.
Enforcement of trade restrictions has proven to be very difficult. The ease of obtaining falsified export permits, the clever ways wildlife can be smuggled, and the large volume of trade make illegal trade very difficult to regulate.