Wildlife Crime

Wildlife Crime – CITES

Independently, and with partners from the Species Survival Network (SSN), DSWF works on various wildlife trade issues sending qualified representatives to international meetings to lobby on issues such as the illegal trade in ivory and compliance and enforcement issues.

We fund an expert team that includes Dr Roz Reeve, one of the most respected and experienced environmental lawyers involved in this field, who specialises in enforcement and compliance and represents DSWF at the highest level of international engagement.

About CITES:

The international trade in wild animals and plants is worth billions of dollars every year, and is having a serious impact on species survival. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) is a United Nations international agreement between governments, providing varying levels of protection for species that are, or may be, in danger of extinction from international trade. 183 member countries meet every three years for the CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) to debate trade Proposals by its member parties. CITES places ‘at-risk’ species in two main categories: Appendix I which imposes a commercial trade ban and Appendix II which monitors and regulates trade.

Endangered wildlife trade is a low priority for many governments. But without CITES, it would be a free-for-all. Many mechanisms have been developed under the treaty to combat illegal wildlife trade and to persuade countries to comply with controls such as bans on commercial trade in rhino horn, tiger parts and elephant ivory.

Other issues that have been of particular interest are the continued controversial decisions to allow one-off trade sales in ivory, which DSWF opposes. DSWF also works on other specific species proposals relating to wildlife trade, the status of species and their protection.

In 2016 DSWF attended the Conference of Parties in South Africa recommending that CITES members support and adopt the following proposals which have been submitted by the African Elephant Coalition:

1. Listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I – affording elephants the highest protection under international law by transferring the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, unifying all range states in a universal listing that bans international trade and ends the current split listing.
2. Closure of domestic ivory markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory. Domestic markets currently enable laundering of poached ivory under the guise that it is antique, ‘pre-Convention’ or otherwise legally acquired.
3. Closure of the markets is essential to complement an Appendix I listing and would reduce opportunities for the illegal trade.
4. Ivory stockpile destruction and management to ensure that there is no stockpiled ivory to be sold.
5. Restricting trade in live elephants – ending the export of African elephants outside their natural range including to zoos and other captive facilities overseas.
6. The Decision-Making Mechanism for the process of trade in ivory (DMM) – recommending the end of negotiations on the DMM which discusses the process to legalize the ivory trade which sends the wrong message – that a legal and sustainable ivory trade is possible. After nine years of negotiations that have gone nowhere it’s time to put an end to them.

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How CITES works

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 authorized 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.)

Appendices I and II

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

The Conference of the Parties (CoP), which is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention and comprises all its member States, has agreed in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16) on a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in Appendices I or II. At each regular meeting of the CoP, Parties submit proposals based on those criteria to amend these two Appendices. Those amendment proposals are discussed and then submitted to a vote. The Convention also allows for amendments by a postal procedure between meetings of the CoP (see Article XV, paragraph 2, of the Convention), but this procedure is rarely used.

Appendix III

This Appendix contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade. Changes to Appendix III follow a distinct procedure from changes to Appendices I and II, as each Party’s is entitled to make unilateral amendments to it.

A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit. There is some variation of the requirements from one country to another and it is always necessary to check on the national laws that may be stricter, but the basic conditions that apply for Appendices I and II are described below.

Header image: Jamie Unwin