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What is CITES and How Does it Protect Endangered Species?



The Florida manatee, believed to have inspired legends of mermaids, is protected under Appendix I of CITES.

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CITES is an acronym for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and is a voluntary, international treaty between governments that strives to protect endangered species by regulating international trade in those species. The countries that agree to be bound by CITES are called "Parties," and agree to pass domestic laws that help enforce CITES within their borders.

CITES was formed by members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1963, but was not ratified until 1973, and finally went into effect in 1975. As of 2013, there were 178 Parties.

Species listed under CITES are listed either under Appendix I, Appendix II, or Appendix III:

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 . . . (Appendix III) 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) is entitled to make unilateral amendments to it.

Amending Appendices I or II requires a two-thirds majority vote at the Convention of the Parties, which is held every three years. CITES covers both plants and animals, and currently covers approximately 25,000 plant species and 5,000 animal species.

CITES addresses only international trade. It does not address domestic trade, habitat protection, or the killing of a member of a protected species.

View the CITES Appendices here.

Also see Endangered Species Act.

The information on this website is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Pronunciation: SIGH-tees
Animal and environmental activists were disappointed when the Parties failed to protect bluefin tuna under CITES at the 2010 Convention of the Parties.
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