CITES: ensuring that species are not threatened by international trade

As part of its work on species conservation, WWF supports both enforcement of, and the listing of endangered species in, CITES – the world's largest and, by some accounts, most effective international wildlife conservation agreement.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force in 1975, in response to concerns that many species were becoming endangered because of international trade. Because this trade crosses national borders, international collaboration and cooperation is crucial to ensure this trade is sustainable and controlled and does not threaten or endanger wildlife.

How does CITES work?

CITES regulates international trade in species by including species on one of three Appendices.

  • Appendix I - species cannot be traded internationally for primarily commercial purposes. (Example of species under Appendix I: tiger, Himalayan brown bear, elephant, and Tibetan antelope)
     
  • Appendix II - species can be traded internationally for commercial purposes, but within strict regulations, requiring determinations of sustainability and legality. (Example of species under Appendix II: Hippopotamus, bigleaf mahogany, and the gray wolf)
     
  • Appendix III - a species included at the request of a country which then needs the cooperation of other countries to help prevent illegal exploitation. (Example of species under Appendix III: walrus, Hoffmann's two-toed sloth, and the red-breasted toucan)
Since the Convention entered into force, more than 30,000 species of animals and plants have been listed on its Appendices, from tigers and elephants to mahogany and orchids.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
African elephant (Loxodonta africana) herd with Kilimanjaro mountain in the background. Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
In 1989, CITES banned international trade in ivory to combat a massive illegal trade in ivory which caused dramatic declines in elephant populations throughout most of Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

The ban was successful in eliminating some of the major ivory markets, leading to reduced poaching and allowing some populations to recover.

WWF continues to provide technical and scientific support to CITES Parties on issues surrounding trade in ivory.

What does WWF do?

  • WWF is an active participant in the CITES Conferences of the Parties, providing scientific and technical support on various priority species and issues. For example, WWF has contributed to recent CITES decisions to protect several marine and timber species, such as the humphead wrasse, great white shark, and the Asian commercial timber species, ramin.
  • WWF also works to enforce CITES regulations, and to ensure that its mandate is not weakened or over-ruled by institutions such as the World Trade Organization.

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