The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Background and Issues
The Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES): Background and Issues
Updated February 5, 2008
Pervaze A. Sheikh
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES):
Background and Issues
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES) has been ratified by 167 nations, including the United States. It
regulates the international trade in animals and plants that may be threatened by
trade. CITES entered into force in 1975 and currently regulates the trade of
approximately 28,000 species of plants and 5,000 species of animals. Many believe
that CITES has been a success, citing that no species listed under CITES has gone
extinct in the last 30 years. Others believe that CITES, although successful, has had
implementation difficulties, such as the lack of enforcement and implementation
regulations in some party nations.
Protected species are organized under CITES into three appendices. Species in
Appendix I are threatened with extinction and trade in these species is prohibited for
commercial purposes. Appendix II contains species not necessarily threatened with
extinction, but which require controlled trade to prevent population declines. For
species protected in Appendix III, at least one country has requested other countries
to assist in regulating trade originating in that country.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) implements CITES in the United States and
contains provisions for protecting rare foreign species. The ESA, however, protects
species based on several criteria that may threaten their survival; CITES focuses
solely on the threat of trade to a species’s survival. Further, CITES allows for the
trade in species if trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species; the ESA may
allow imports of foreign endangered species if trade enhances the survival of the
species in their native country.
In the United States, comparisons of wildlife protection under the ESA and
CITES may be an emerging issue for Congress. Some argue that the ESA regulations
on importing some foreign species may inhibit conservation efforts in foreign
countries that rely on funds generated from wildlife trade. Others respond by noting
that CITES is focused only on the trade in endangered species, rather than the overall
protection and conservation of the species such as in the ESA. Issues regarding the
effectiveness of enforcing CITES and the implementation of CITES may also
In troduction ......................................................1
Classification into Appendices and the Permit System.................2
Administration of CITES........................................5
Conference of the Parties....................................6
Enforcement of CITES..........................................7
Implementation of CITES In the United States...................7
CITES and the Endangered Species Act............................9
Implementation of CITES: Successes and Problems......................12
List of Figures
Figure 1. Intended Use of Wildlife According to Import/Export Permit
Applications in 2003...........................................5
The Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES): Background and Issues
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement among national governments. It
aims to ensure that the international trade in plants and animals does not threaten
their survival. The United States, a signatory to CITES, is the largest importer and
exporter of wildlife products in the estimated $5 billion world wildlife trade industry.
The United States’ share of the world wildlife trade is between $1 billion and $2
billion per year.1
The implementation and enforcement of CITES is of interest to Congress
because of the prominence of the United States in the international wildlife trade.
Congress provides oversight on U.S. activities related to CITES by holding hearings
on U.S. recommendations for CITES, as well as, providing appropriations for
conservation programs that aim to improve the populations and habitats of some
species listed on CITES. The most recent Conference of the Parties (COP) for
CITES was held June 2007. Several decisions regarding the listing of species were
discussed, including denying a proposal to review restrictions on whales, listing
species of sawfish and the European eel, denying listing proposals for some species
of sharks and coral, approving some trade in ivory before a nine-year ban, and
addressing tiger farming and illegal logging. The next COP will be held in Doha,
Qatar, in 2010.
This report provides background information on the structure of CITES, the
enforcement of CITES in the United States, and implementing issues related to
The origins of CITES can be traced to the 1960s, during international
discussions about the world trade of wildlife and wildlife products and its effect on
wildlife populations. In 1963, the International Union for Conservation of Nature
and Natural Resources (IUCN) called for an international convention on the trade in
animal species and their products. A first draft of the Convention was produced in
1 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Protected Species, International Convention and
U.S. Laws Protect Wildlife Differently, GAO-04-964 (Washington, DC: Sept. 2004).
Hereafter referred to as GAO Protected Species Report.
1964, and in 1973, CITES was signed by 21 nations in Washington, DC. CITES
entered into force in 1975 after 10 countries ratified the agreement. As of February
CITES is applied to species whose populations may be significantly harmed by
international trade. Species are first identified as needing protection and then
assessed for the risk trade poses for the species survival. CITES regulates trade
through a series of import and export permits corresponding to the degree of
protection. There are approximately 5,000 species of animals and approximately
28,000 species of plants listed under CITES. The administrative bodies of CITES
are the Secretariat, the Conference of the Parties (COP), and the Management and
Scientific Authorities of each country. The parties (i.e., signatory countries) meet
generally every two years at a COP to evaluate the implementation of the treaty and
consider efforts which would improve CITES’ success.
In the United States, the implementing legislation for CITES is the Endangered
Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531ff). The Office of Management Authority (OMA)
and the Office of Scientific Authority (OSA) of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
in the Department of the Interior (DOI), exercise the responsibilities of the
Management and Scientific Authorities. Enforcement responsibilities for CITES are
shared in varying levels by the FWS (Division of Law Enforcement), and the Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Customs Service in the
Department of Homeland Security. The NOAA Fisheries in the Department of
Commerce also has a small role in CITES’ enforcement.
Classification into Appendices and the Permit System
Under CITES, species that are thought to be in need of protection are identified
by the parties, and then their trade is regulated through export and import permits.
Among the criteria used to consider a species for listing under CITES are (1) trade
in the species; (2) population size of the species; (3) quality of habitat used by the
species; (4) extent of the area where the species is distributed; (5) number of
subpopulations and their size; and (6) reproductive potential.2
When a party is interested in including, deleting, or changing the Appendix of
a species under CITES, it must submit a proposal to amend the listing based on a set
of criteria. To adopt an amendment based on a proposal, two-thirds of the parties
voting must vote in favor. The set of criteria used to justify changes in the listings
have evolved over the years. When CITES took effect in 1975, several species had
already been identified for inclusion in the Appendices. At the first COP, criteria for
including a species under CITES were promulgated and included the submission of
data on population size and range of the species. In 1994, new criteria for listing a
species under CITES were adopted. These criteria include parameters based on the
level of international trade of the species, distribution and population size of the
species, nature and intensity of threats facing the species (e.g., habitat loss, disease,
2 GAO Protected Species Report, p. 9.
and pollution), management of the species, conservation of the species in its range
country, and consultations with other countries where the species are found.3
There are three appendices in CITES that correspond to different levels of
protection from international trade. Under CITES, any species, subspecies, or
geographically separate population of a species can be listed. Once listed under
CITES, species can be traded between countries only with the proper permits.
Permits are given if trade is not expected to be detrimental to the survival of the
species. Certificates of Exemption are granted when trade in a species meets a
specified set of criteria for exemption.4 (See “exemptions” below for further
discussion.) Article II of the treaty provides conditions under which species are to
be included in each Appendix.5
Appendix I. The most stringent restrictions on trade are for species listed in
Appendix I. For Appendix I, Article II states:
Appendix I shall include all species threatened with extinction which are or may
be affected by trade. Trade in specimens of these species must be subject to
particularly strict regulation in order not to endanger further their survival and
must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances.
CITES generally prohibits commercial international trade in specimens of these
species. Circumstances under which these species can be traded include scientific
exchange, breeding, or educational programs. Both an import and an export permit
(or re-export certificate6) are required for the limited trade allowed for species in
Appendix I. For example, in the recent COP, countries agreed to allow Namibia and
South Africa to kill and export five black rhinoceroses a year, with proceeds of the
sale and hunt to be provided for black rhinoceros conservation programs. The black
rhinoceros is an Appendix I species.
Appendix II. According to Article II, Appendix II species are:
(a) all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction
may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict
regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival; and (b)
other species which must be subject to regulation in order that trade in specimens
of certain species referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph may be
brought under effective control.
3 Criteria presented are based on a summary provided by the GAO Protected Species Report,
4 W. Wijnstekers, The Evolution of CITES , 7th Edition (Geneva, CITES Secretariat,
Switzerland: 2003). Hereafter referred to as The Evolution of CITES.
5 To view the text of CITES, see [http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/text.shtml], accessed Feb.
6 A re-export certificate is granted for Appendix I species being exported from a country
that previously imported it. For example, if the United States imported a species from
Kenya, where it was listed originally, then exported it, a re-export permit would be
necessary. This would also include items subsequently converted to manufactured goods.
Trade in Appendix II species is less restrictive than trade in Appendix I species,
and exchange is permitted for commercial purposes if trade will not be detrimental
to the species in the wild. For example, trade of Appendix II species requires only
an export permit from the country of origin, unless the importing country has
imposed additional requirements, which is allowed under CITES. In certain cases,
CITES treats individuals or parts of Appendix I species as Appendix II species if they
have been bred in captivity or artificially propagated. In addition, an introduction
from-the-sea certificate is required for the import of Appendix I or II specimens taken
from the high seas outside of any country’s jurisdiction.
Appendix III. Appendix III species classified under CITES include:
all species which any Party identifies as being subject to regulation within its
jurisdiction for the purpose of preventing or restricting exploitation, and as
needing the cooperation of other parties in the control of trade.
International trade of Appendix III species may require one of the following
three documents: 1) export permit, granted for species coming from the country that
listed it; 2) re-export permit, granted for Appendix III species being exported from
a country that previously imported it; or 3) certificate of origin, for Appendix III
specimens that are being exported from a country other than the listing country. For
example, if the United States wished to allow the export of a turtle dove hatched in
the U.S., a certificate of origin would be issued because the species was originally
listed by Ghana. A certificate of origin requires that the specimens were legally
obtained from within the exporting country. There is no requirement to show that the
trade in the specimen would not be detrimental to the species’ survival since it was
not from the listed population.
Permit Regulations. Appendix I specimens require both an import and
export permit for trade between party nations. If a non-party nation is involved, the
party nation must provide the appropriate import or export permit depending on the
trade of the species. Appendix I specimens acquired abroad by individuals outside
their country of usual residence may not be imported into the United States without
CITES permits. A permit under CITES is not required for domestic trade within a
party nation. Importing or exporting hunted animal trophies are the dominant use of
wildlife according to permit applications issued in 2003. (See Figure 1.)
If a party enters a reservation, the transaction does not require a permit from or
into the country taking the reservation, but would require a permit from the importing
or exporting country if it is a CITES signatory. A reservation for a particular species
can occur when a party detracts from the listing of a species in question because it
finds the listing of the species unacceptable. The party is required to abide by the
rules of the Convention with regard to every other species except for those on which
it has taken a reservation. Until a reservation is removed, that party is treated as a
non-party state by other signatories for trade in that species.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein have registered the most reservations, 53 and 45
respectively. These reservations are primarily for bird species, amphibians, and some
mammals. Iceland, Norway, Japan, and Palau have listed reservations for several
marine species. The United States has no reservations.
Figure 1. Intended Use of Wildlife According to
Import/Export Permit Applications in 2003
Commericial Trophies -
Use - 25%34%
Other - 10%
Personal Use -
Breeding - 13%
Source: GAO Protected Species Report.
Exemptions. In some situations, Certificates of Exemption may be issued in
lieu of permits. Certificates of Exemption are issued for pre-convention specimens
or for species that are part of scientific exchanges. Pre-convention specimens are
those specimens acquired before the species was listed under CITES. Scientific
exchange is the non-commercial exchange of specimens between registered scientific
institutions. Further, Management Authorities may waive the permit or certificate
requirement for specimens that are part of a traveling zoo, circus, plant exhibition,
or other traveling exhibition.
Administration of CITES
The administration of CITES is divided into the Secretariat, the Management
and Scientific Authorities, and the Conference of the Parties. The Secretariat is
housed within the United Nations Environment Programme in Geneva, Switzerland,
and is funded by Parties through a trust fund. The Secretariat has a broad range of
duties that include organizing meetings of the Parties, preparing reports on the
meetings, and publishing annual status reports. The Secretariat is also responsible
for undertaking scientific and technical studies that will contribute toward
Each party to CITES is responsible for creating its own Management and
Scientific Authorities. The Management Authorities have the responsibility to grant
or deny CITES permits. In general, a Management Authority must determine
7 Rosalind Reeve, “Policing International Trade in Endangered Species, The CITES Treaty
and Compliance” (The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London: 2002), 346 p.
Hereafter referred to as Policing International Trade.
!the specimen was obtained through the violation of any domestic
!a living specimen will be prepared and shipped in a manner not
detrimental to its health or welfare;
!an import permit has been granted for Appendix I species before an
export permit can be granted;
!the import of specimens on Appendix I is primarily for non-
commercial purposes; and
!the necessary advice from the Scientific Authority has been issued.
Management Authorities must also keep records of trade, care for species in
transit, and designate exit and entry points for trade, among other things.
The functions of Scientific Authorities are defined in part by CITES and the
party. Among other things, Scientific Authorities are required to determine whether:
imports or exports of CITES species will have a harmful effect on the conservation
status of a species; the intended facility for caring an imported live specimen of listed
animal is adequately equipped to conserve and care for it; and import restrictions for
a specimen to the country should be proposed because trade may have a negative
effect on the status of the species in the wild, or because the introduction of the
specimen into the country would present an ecological threat to native species.
Conference of the Parties. The Conference of the Parties (COP) convenes
every two to three years. At these meetings, the parties vote on adopting
amendments to Appendices I and II, review the progress of the Convention in
meeting its goals, and make recommendations for improving CITES. Taking actions
on substantive proposals or making major procedural changes usually requires a two-
thirds vote by the parties; however, many other decisions are made by consensus.8
Attendance at the COP is not limited to party members. Observers are invited to
attend and generally include non-parties to CITES, the United Nations and its
agencies, non-governmental organizations, and any international or national body
(government or not) that is “technically qualified in protection, conservation or9
management of wild fauna or flora.” While all present can participate, only party
members can vote. There have been 14 COPs since the Convention convened in
1973, the most recent in the Netherlands in June 2007. The next COP is scheduled
for 2010 in Qatar.
Summary of Proceedings from COP-14. COP-14 concluded on June 15,
2007, with several changes to species listings under CITES. This is a summary of
some significant changes.
8 GAO Protected Species Report, p. 8.
9 Article XI, §7 of CITES.
!Delegates adopted a resolution that no reviews of whale species
should take place as long as the International Whaling
Commission’s ban on commercial whaling continues. Therefore no
whale species will be subject to the CITES periodic review process.
Pro-whaling countries anticipated that reviews of listed whale
species would result in more relaxed trade and harvest restrictions.
!Several species of sawfish and the European eel were listed under
CITES; however, some species of sharks were not listed, and some
species of coral were not uplisted to Appendix II, as proposed by the
!A single sale of legally obtained ivory from healthy elephant herds
was approved for four African range states. This sale was granted
before a nine-year ban on ivory sales is to be implemented. This sale
is in addition to a 60-ton sale of ivory granted to range states in
!Raising captive tigers for international trade in tiger parts was
rejected by CITES member countries. China was urged to phase out
its commercial tiger farms. Several other terrestrial animals were
also considered for listing, uplisting, and downlisting under CITES.
!A new timber species was added to the list of CITES protected
species. The trade in brazilwood will now require CITES permits,
although exports of bows for musical instruments are exempted. A
proposal to uplist Cedrula to Appendix II was withdrawn.
Enforcement of CITES
The enforcement of CITES is primarily the responsibility of the party countries.
Parties are required to enact and implement legislation that will prohibit trade that
violates the treaty, as well as provide for penalties for violations and the confiscation
and, where feasible, the return of illegally traded specimens. Under Article VIII,
other enforcement activities are listed and include (1) designation of ports of entry
and exit for species; (2) care for living specimens; (3) maintenance of detailed
records on the import and export of listed species; and (4) preparation of a biennial
report on the regulatory measures taken to enforce the provisions of the treaty. Party
countries are also allowed to adopt stricter domestic measures than provided in the
Convention (Article XVI of CITES). Several countries have done so, including
countries within the European Union and the United States under the ESA.
Implementation of CITES In the United States. The Secretary of the
Interior, through the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), has the primary responsibility
for implementing CITES in the United States. The FWS is responsible for issuing
permits for the export, import, or re-export of protected species under the terms of
CITES and domestic laws; monitoring trade and transport of listed species; enforcing
permit regulations; and investigating cases of illegal trade.10 All wildlife species that
enter or exit the United States must be accompanied by a permit in compliance with
U.S. laws.11 The FWS also is responsible for coordinating and preparing U.S.
proposals for the COP. The FWS generally coordinates with other federal agencies
to prepare these proposals.
Other federal agencies are involved in implementing CITES in the United
States. NOAA Fisheries provides scientific advice and assistance to the FWS for
marine species. Although NOAA Fisheries does not have legal authority to
implement the terms of the Convention, it does have enforcement and monitoring
responsibilities over some marine species that are jointly covered by the ESA and
CITES, such as great whales, Queen Conch, some species of hard coral, and
dolphins. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible
for inspecting all shipments of plants into the United States and assists the FWS in
inspecting and detecting items that contain wildlife parts or products. Further, the
Department of Agriculture assists the FWS on policies related to plants, and the
Department of State is responsible for providing U.S. annual contributions to the
Convention as well as assistance with international environmental agreements.
Wildlife trade involving the United States is also regulated by other laws such
as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Lacey Act, and the Fisherman’s Protection
Act.12 A short summary of each of these laws follows:
!The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 (P.L. 92-522,
as amended; 16 U.S.C. §§1361, et seq.) aims to conserve marine
mammal populations by establishing a moratorium on the taking of
marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. nationals on the high
!The Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §3371-3378) implements enforcement
mechanisms for the illegal trade of wildlife within the United States.
Specifically, the Lacey Act makes it illegal to engage in the trade of
fish and wildlife taken in violation of any U.S. or Indian tribal law,
treaty, or regulation as well as the trade of any of these items
acquired through violations of foreign law or treaties (this includes
CITES). Plant species are subjected to the Lacey Act if they are
taken in violation of a law or treaty of the United States or a law or
regulation of any state. However, plants are defined as those
indigenous to any state and either (A) listed under CITES or (B)
10 GAO Protected Species Report, pp. 12-13.
11 Note that CITES imposes no direct controls on shipments between U.S. States or
12 Other U.S. programs such as the Multinational Species Conservation Fund support
conservation activities of specific foreign species under the authority of several laws. The
Fund benefits tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants, great apes (e.g., chimpanzees and gorillas),
and marine turtles, often in conjunction with efforts under CITES. For more information
see CRS Report RS21157, Multinational Species Conservation Fund, by Pervaze Sheikh
and M. Lynne Corn.
listed pursuant to any state law that provides for the conservation of
species threatened with extinction (16 U.S.C. § 3371(f)). Therefore,
a plant is not covered under the Lacey Act unless it is indigenous to
a state. This definition, for example, precludes the application of the
Lacey Act to many tropical timber species listed under CITES.
!Under the Fisherman’s Protective Act (22 U.S.C. §§1971-1979)
there is a provision (Pelly Amendment) that authorizes the President
to discontinue the importation of products from a country that allows
fishing operations, takings, or trade that diminishes the effectiveness
of an international fishing treaty or program in international
endangered and threatened species (e.g., CITES).
Changes in the implementation of CITES in the United States were promulgated
by the FWS on August 23, 2007.13 (See 50 CFR Part 23.) The changes are intended
to reflect current CITES provisions that have been modified or added by the parties
from the inception of the treaty to COP-13. Many of the changes for new regulations
explain procedures and requirements already in effect, specific requirements related
to documentation and reporting of activities, and definitions of new terms, among
other things, according to FWS.
CITES and the Endangered Species Act
The ESA implements CITES in the United States. Although the ESA and
CITES have a legal distinction, many species are included in both the ESA and
CITES lists, making these lists overlapping but not identical.
The ESA protects approximately 1,830 species, of which 560 species are in
foreign countries. Under the ESA, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to
consider actions taken by foreign governments or agencies on species when
determining if a foreign species should be listed. Further, the Secretary must make
determinations for listing species based on the best available scientific and
commercial data (which may include foreign sources) and taking into account efforts
by foreign governments and agencies.14 Currently, the FWS reviews foreign species
under the ESA’s listing criteria and goes through a required regulatory and public
comment process before listing a foreign species under the ESA.
Although there are similarities between CITES and the ESA in listing and
protecting species, several fundamental differences exist. The ESA and CITES have
similar rationales for listing species; namely, that there is a threat to the survival of
the species. Under CITES, this threat is specifically associated with the harvesting
of the species or their parts for international trade, although other parameters may be
considered. Under the ESA, consideration of the threat to survival is broader, and
includes factors such as habitat loss, disease and predation, as well as trade and
13 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, “Revision of Regulations for the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES),” Federal Register v. 72, no. 163 (Aug. 23, 2007): 48402-48494.
14 Section 4(b) of the ESA.
consumption. Many species fall under both these definitions of threat and
consequently are listed under both the ESA and CITES. This does imply that species
listed under both lists have equal levels of protection. For example, the Canadian
wood bison is listed under Appendix II in CITES, yet is listed as endangered under
the ESA. Thus, a U.S. hunter could legally hunt wood bison in Canada, but not
import his trophies into the United States without a permit from both the United
States and Canada.
Species that are not prohibited for trade under CITES, yet are listed as
threatened or endangered under the ESA, can be imported to the United States if they
meet requirements of §10 or §4(d) of the ESA, and have CITES permits if they are
listed under CITES. Section 10 of the ESA allows for the Secretary to issue a permit
for the take of an endangered species when it (1) is incidental in conducting an
otherwise lawful activity; (2) is shown to enhance the survival of the affected species
in the wild; or (3) is for scientific purposes. For example, §10 permits have been
issued for the import of endangered giant pandas, cheetahs, and Asian elephants for
scientific research and generally not for incidental take.15 Section 10 allows permit
requests for importing sport hunting tropies; however, such requests are routinely
denied, according to the FWS.16 Under CITES, exceptions for sport-hunting trophies
under a quota are sometimes granted for taking species listed under Appendix I and
II, if it is determined to have no detriment to the population.
Section 4(d) under the ESA authorizes the creation of special rules for
conserving threatened species. Under §4(d), the Secretary of the Interior may issue
rules for threatened species that deviate from the protections given to endangered
species, including rules which may permit some trade in the species or its products.
Otherwise threatened species generally have all legal protections allocated to
endangered species. Under this authority, the FWS has issued several rules
pertaining to threatened species under the ESA that are also listed as Appendix II
species under CITES. The FWS has lifted import bans, and in some cases, allowed
the import of sport-hunted trophies, of some threatened species when it was shown
that regulated trade would be an incentive for developing conservation programs in
the species’ countries of origin.17 For example, some species of saltwater crocodiles
listed as threatened under the ESA have a §4(d) rule that allows for the import of
body parts from managed populations. This rule was implemented under the premise
that limited trade in crocodile body parts would encourage the development of
conservation programs in their native country.18
15 Note that the ESA protects foreign endangered species by regulating their importation into
the country, but does not regulate take of foreign species in their country of origin by
16 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, “Draft Policy for Enhancement-of-
Survival Permits for Foreign Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act,” Federal
Register, v.68, no. 159 (Aug. 18, 2003): 49512. Hereafter referred to as the Draft Policy.
17 Draft Policy.
The protection of species listed as endangered under the ESA and listed in
Appendix I of CITES is not equivalent. CITES allows for the trade in endangered
species, if trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species. The ESA requires
that importing endangered species have a net result of enhancing the survival of the
species. For example, cheetahs are Appendix I species under CITES and listed as
endangered under the ESA. Under CITES, some countries have been allowed to
participate in the limited trade of sport-hunted cheetahs, because it was shown that
this trade would not be a detriment to the population. Under the ESA, however, the
FWS has not issued permits for importing sport-hunted cheetah trophies, because
their take has not been shown to enhance the survival of the species in their range
country.19 Limited take of endangered species under the ESA and CITES is allowed
in some cases where the objective is scientific research, conservation, or education.
Further, under the ESA, permits that allow incidental take during otherwise lawful
actions may also be granted.20 Many have suggested that these fundamental
differences between regulation under CITES and the ESA demonstrate that the ESA
is stricter than CITES with regards to species protection.
The issue of whether or not to have stricter domestic ESA measures compared
to CITES for foreign endangered species is an on-going debate.21 According to the
GAO, some proponents of stricter domestic measures argue that CITES is focused
only on the trade of endangered species, rather than the overall protection and
conservation of the species (e.g., protecting habitat within the range country).
Further, some argue that stricter domestic measures will facilitate enforcement and
allow the United States to focus its protection efforts on species without seeking the
consent of other parties. Others argue that stricter domestic enforcement discourages
developing countries from creating conservation programs that would benefit from
trade in protected wildlife species.
The FWS has addressed this issue by proposing a policy that would allow
limited trade in foreign endangered species, if funds used to obtain those species are
invested in conservation programs to enhance the species survival.22 The proposed
policy to issue enhancement of survival permits has been met with controversy.
Some supporters believe that the policy is one of the few ways the United States can
provide incentives for conservation in developing countries. Others have responded
to the Draft Policy with skepticism of its possible benefits for endangered species,
19 For other examples, see the GAO Endangered Species Report, p. 34.
20 Incidental take permits make it legal to take a listed species under certain circumstances.
To obtain a permit, a landowner must prepare a habitat conservation plan (HCP) approved
by the FWS to protect endangered species on the landowner’s property. By entering into an
HCP, landowners can receive an incidental take permit whereby they can take an
endangered species, if they are engaged in otherwise lawful activity (e.g., such as land
21 For a summary of the arguments for and against stricter domestic measures, see the GAO
Protected Species Report pp. 36-41.
22 Draft Policy.
and argue that the policy is too vague and may spur an increase in smuggling.23
Further, some argue that the policy places too much responsibility in the range
country for operating and maintaining conservation programs. The Department of
the Interior (DOI) has stated that permits will only be given if a substantive
conservation program is in place and is enhancing the survival of the species. A final
decision on the proposed policy is still pending.
Implementation of CITES: Successes and Problems
The implementation of CITES has generated several success stories along with
controversy and problems. Arguably, the success of CITES can be summarized with
the fact that no species listed under CITES within the last 30 years has gone extinct.
Successes. CITES is one of the world’s most widely accepted treaties, with
over 172 signatories. Many argue that it has significantly increased monitoring and
control of international wildlife trade, and has played a part in the conservation of
many species that may have gone extinct if freely traded. Another possible factor in
the success of CITES is that the listings have steadily increased since its inception.
Some attribute this increase to better monitoring and analysis of trade as well as more
participating countries. Some claim that a success of CITES is its increased use of
science-based criteria to consider listings.24 Although it is difficult to attribute the
conservation of a species solely to CITES, several species have noticeably improved
since being listed on CITES.25 For example, in 1989, CITES banned international
trade in ivory, which was considered the major cause of declining elephant
populations (a 50% population decline from 1979-1989). Since the ban on ivory,
some major ivory markets have closed, poaching has been reduced, and some
elephant populations have steadily recovered.
Problems with Implementation. Although CITES has recorded some
success, several problems with implementation remain. Some of these problems
include insufficient enforcement in foreign countries, complex and controversial
species and specimens to monitor, low penalties for violations, and the use of
Although parties to the treaty are obligated to implement legislation upholding
CITES and to establish Management and Scientific Authorities, some have failed to
do so and consequently have not effectively enforced the treaty. For example, as of
2002, nearly 50% of the parties had not implemented legislation that would
sufficiently cover the main responsibilities of CITES, including (1) establishment of
Management and Scientific Authorities; (2) prohibition of trade in violation of
CITES; (3) penalties for violations; and (4) protocols for confiscating illegally traded
24 GAO Protected Species Report.
26 Policing International Trade.
Some also argue that many countries lack the resources to police and monitor
international wildlife trade through their country and consider violations of wildlife
trade a low priority. In many countries, specialized wildlife law enforcement
officials do not exist, and enforcement of wildlife crimes is not a high priority.
Barriers toward effective enforcement in range states include (1) corruption in
government, which contributes to the inability of range states to monitor and control
wildlife crime; (2) collusion between wildlife poachers and law enforcement
officials; and (3) a low priority for conservation in their federal or national
Some believe that penalties for CITES violations in party nations are not
adequate to prevent illegal wildlife trade. CITES does not provide guidance on the
level or types of penalties to impose, and how the parties penalize violators varies
widely. Several countries, for example, do not have penalties for illicit wildlife trade.
CITES does, however, state that violations should at least result in the confiscation
of the wildlife and products, which itself can be a costly penalty.
The use of reservations by countries to exempt themselves from the regulations
associated with a species that the party objects to having listed is considered by many
to be a significant threat to the implementation of CITES. Once a reservation is
taken, the party is treated as a non-party with respect to that particular species, and
can engage in unrestricted trade with other non-party nations or party nations that
have the same reservations. A reservation can only be made when a country becomes
a party or when an amendment is adopted, yet can be dropped at any time.
Supporters of reservations argue that it provides a country with the opportunity to
object to the listing of one species without having to withdraw from the entire
Convention. Critics, however, argue that reservations are a loophole that can result
in the depletion of an endangered species if trade is not controlled. Further, some
argue, reservations decrease the ability of CITES to protect endangered species from
Several of these implementation problems are being addressed by the
Secretariat. For example, in the “Strategic Vision of CITES through 2005,” the
Secretariat is aiming to increase the capacity of party nations to implement domestic
legislation and policies to support CITES, as well as increase the cooperation and
communication among other international stakeholders regarding CITES
enforcement.28 The Secretariat is also striving to increase cooperation with
organizations of other multilateral conventions such as the Convention on Biological
Diversity and the World Conservation Union.
27 CITES, Tiger Technical Mission Report (Geneva, Switzerland: 1999).
28 CITES Secretariat, Strategic Vision Through 2005 (Geneva, Switzerland: 2000).
Available online at [http://www.cites.org/eng/news/English%20strategies.pdf], accessed
January 22, 2007.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES) of is an international treaty that is steadily gaining acceptance in
the world and growing in terms of its application. While most believe that the treaty
has been effective in curbing the international trade of endangered and threatened
species, some argue that there are still many issues and problems with the
implementation of the treaty. The biggest problem, according to some, is the lack of
implementing legislation, and hence enforcement mechanisms, in several party
nations. This compromises the effectiveness of the treaty and lowers the value of
enforcement and monitoring activities in complying party nations. In the United
States, the comparison between domestic regulations and CITES regulations for
foreign endangered species may be an emerging issue. Although fundamental
differences in protection and criteria for listing species exist between the Endangered
Species Act (ESA) and CITES, there seems to be consensus that the ESA has stricter
measures than CITES. However, there does not appear to be a consensus that stricter
measures under the ESA would necessarily be more effective than CITES in
protecting foreign endangered species. Attempts to reconcile the programs in some
aspects are pending, as the FWS is reviewing a proposed policy to grant enhancement
of survival permits under the ESA that would follow similar practices already
conducted under CITES.