CITES

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CITES CITES

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    • Online gambling is illegal in the US, but legal in the UK.

    • The oxidising agent potassium bromate was identified as a potential carcinogen and banned in the UK. However, it's still used in the US.

    • Kinder Surprise eggs are prohibited in the US due to fears of choking, but are sold in the UK.

    Nevertheless, there are some laws that remain the same regardless of country. One of these laws is CITES – a treaty aiming to prevent unsustainable exploitation of wild flora or fauna.

    Interested to know more? Keep reading!


    CITES: Meaning

    What does CITES stand for?

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

    This multilateral treaty was signed on 3rd March 1973 in Washington DC, but it didn't enter into force until 1st January 1975.

    Aim of CITES

    The aim of CITES is to ensure that no wild flora or fauna becomes unsustainably exploited due to international wildlife trade. To prevent unsustainable exploitation, the member nations must apply for permits and certificates before specimens are allowed to enter or leave a country.

    CITES and Conservation

    Why do we need CITES, and how will it help us conserve wildlife?

    The International Wildlife Trade

    The international wildlife trade is estimated to value $119 billion. Millions of plants and animal specimens are transported around the globe every year. The trade encompasses live specimens and products derived from them, such as:

    • Food products

    • Leather goods

    • Wooden musical instruments

    • Timber

    • Medicine

    • Souvenirs

    Problems Associated with the International Wildlife Trade

    Certain species are often exploited heavily due to the trade. When combined with factors such as habitat loss and climate change, their populations may become depleted. They may even face extinction.

    Pangolins are nocturnal mammals with a full armour of scales. They're the most trafficked mammals in the world. Two of the eight pangolin species are listed as Critically Endangered.

    CITES pangolin StudySmarterFigure 1: Pangolins are often poached for their scales; used to make handbags, shoes, belts, and purses. Source: unsplash.com

    Furthermore, not all wildlife trade is licit. The illegal wildlife trade is the world's fourth-largest illegitimate transactional activity. Its value estimates range from $5 to $20 billion.

    Illegal wildlife trade has severe impacts. Not just on biodiversity, but on society. Illegal trade undermines local communities, causing residents to losing their jobs and livelihoods. Plus, exporting large volumes of live animals can lead to zoonoses.

    A zoonosis is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

    The SARS pandemic of 2002 to 2004 is thought to have been caused by zoonotic transmission.

    How Does CITES Help?

    Ensuring sustainable wildlife trade through forms, permits, and certifications limits unsustainable exploitation. An international agreement helps to limit illegal trade and conserve these biological resources for the future.

    CITES Appendices

    CITES has three appendices.

    Appendix I

    Appendix I of CITES lists endangered species threatened with extinction. International trade of these species is only permitted in exceptional circumstances (such as non-commercial scientific research). Trade of species listed in Appendix I can only take place if the specimen has been granted an import permit and an export permit.

    Species can only be added to or removed from Appendix I at a CITES conference.

    Appendix II

    Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is closely controlled. Commercial trade of these species is allowed.

    Many species in Appendix II are “look-alikes” of protected species, whose commercial trade is prohibited.

    International trade of species listed in Appendix II only requires an export permit (import permits aren't necessary in all countries).

    Species can only be added to or removed from Appendix at a CITES conference.

    Appendix III

    Appendix III lists species that are protected in at least one country, to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. An export permit is required.

    Unlike the first two appendices, each country can make unilateral changes to Appendix III.

    India is one of the few countries to have made extensive use of this appendix. Since 1976, they've added 39 taxa, of which 27 remain on the list.

    CITES: Forms and Permits

    Permits and certificates have been mentioned a few times in this article. Let's look at them in more detail.

    AppendicesPermits and Certificates Required by CITES
    Appendix I
    • Import permit
    • Export permit
    • Re-export certificate
    Appendix II
    • Export permit
    • Re-export certificate
    Appendix III
    • Export permit or certificate of origin
    • Re-export certificate

    Permit Requirements

    Import permits are only issued if the species is not to be used for commercial purposes, AND if the import will not affect the survival of the species. If the specimen is live, the recipient must be suitably equipped to house and care for it.

    Export permits are only issued if the species has been legally obtained and the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.

    For species in Appendix I, traders must obtain an import permit first.

    Re-export certificates will only be issued if the species was imported in accordance to the Convention.

    Certificates of origin are issued by the recipient country.

    Who Issues the Permits?

    The Management Authority of CITES have the main responsibility of implementing the Convention. They maintain registers, review data, and approve and issue certificates and permits.

    The Management Authority is advised by the Scientific Authority. Their tasks include:

    • Determining if exportation or importation will affect species survival

    • Determining if a recipient can adequately care for a live animal

    • Monitoring exports and permits

    • Providing advice

    • Reviewing applications and proposals

    CITES rosewood guitar StudySmarterFigure 2: Musical instruments containing CITES-listed Brazilian rosewood may require a travel permit. Source: unsplash.com

    Species Protected by CITES

    Over 38,700 species are protected by CITES. The majority are plants, but some animals are listed too.

    CategoryAppendix IAppendix IIAppendix III
    Fauna687 species + 32 subspecies5056 species + 15 subspecies202 species + 14 subspecies
    Flora395 species + 4 subspecies32364 species9 species
    Total1082 species + 36 subspecies37420 species + 15 subspecies211 species + 14 subspecies

    Subspecies refers to smaller groups within a species. They are capable of breeding with each other despite minor genetic or anatomical differences.

    Charismatic Species

    Charismatic species are popular or symbolic animals.

    Most charismatic species are large mammals (such as tigers, elephants, bears, and giraffes). These species draw public support and awareness of conservation.

    CITES tigers StudySmarterFigure 3: Tigers are a popular charismatic species. Source: unsplash.com

    However, the most numerous groups of species protected by CITES are less well-known. They include aloes, corals, mussels, and frogs.

    Charismatic species are linked to taxonomic bias. 41% of the world's amphibians are under threat – far more than any other class of vertebrate. However, only 7% of known amphibian species are kept in zoos. Conservation and research often prioritises more charismatic species, such as mammals and birds.

    Potential Drawbacks of CITES

    As you have probably concluded from reading this article, CITES is great however, it does have its drawbacks.

    • Some people believe that the focus of CITES is a more classical approach which could be restricting conservation efforts. It could be said that giving ownership to communities rather than the state encourages more sustainable use.
    • Effective governance is needed to enforce CITES regulations and some countries don't have this. Despite this, a lot of the parties make donations to a fund used to improve law enforcement in developing member countries.
    • Some criticise CITES for being influenced by political or emotional motives such as the Atlantic Bluefin tuna being denied CITES protection in 2010 - likely due to economical interest and politics.

    I hope that this article has explained the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for you. The convention aims to prevent unsustainable exploitation by the international wildlife trade. Permits must be issued before specimens can be exported or imported.

    CITES - Key takeaways

    • CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The aim of the convention is to ensure that no wild flora or fauna becomes unsustainably exploited due to international wildlife trade.
    • The international wildlife leads to exploitation and puts species at risk of extinction. Furthermore, illegal trade threatens biodiversity, local communities, and health.
    • Appendix I of CITES lists endangered species threatened with extinction. Trade of these specimens is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, and requires import and export permits.
    • Appendix II of CITES lists species who may face extinction due to unregulated trade. Movement of Appendix II specimens requires export permits.
    • Appendix III of CITES lists species protected in at least one nation. Movement requires export permits or certificates of origin.
    • Almost 40,000 species are protected by CITES; the majority are flora.

    1. CITES, What is CITES?, 2022

    2. International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN Red List, 2022

    3. Jia Hao Tow, Economic value of illegal wildlife trade entering the USA, PLos One, 2021

    4. Mikaela Conley, Food additive or carcinogen? The growing list of chemicals banned by EU but used in US, The Guardian, 2022

    5. Roger Downie, Croaking Science: Captive Breeding, Conservation and Welfare of Amphibians, Froglife, 2021

    6. Sarah Heinrich, India’s use of CITES Appendix III, Nature Conservation, 2021

    7. WWF, Pangolin, 2022

    Frequently Asked Questions about CITES

    What does CITES stand for?

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

    Which countries are not part of CITES?

    Only two countries are not part of CITES – North Korea and South Sudan.

    What is the CITES agreement?

    The CITES agreement is a multilateral treaty, aiming to ensure that no wild flora or fauna becomes unsustainably exploited due to international trade.

    When was CITES passed?

    CITES was signed on 3rd March 1973, but didn't enter into force until 1st January 1975.

    What is Appendix II of CITES?

    Appendix II of CITES lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is closely controlled.

    What is Appendix I of CITES?

    Appendix I of CITES lists endangered species threatened with extinction. International trade of these species is only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which Appendix lists endangered species threatened with extinction?

    Import permits are required for species in which appendix?

    Which Appendix lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so due to international trade?

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