This may be the biggest conservation event going on right now and we want you to be in the know of it all. The International wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, including hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.

Right now – South Africa is hosting the 17th CITES CoP “Conference of the Parties” to debate and vote on several proposals on the regulation of the international trade of endangered species with 183 countries participating this year.

What does CITES mean anyway?
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international legally binding agreement between governments. Adopted on 3 March 1973 and came into full force on 1 July 1975. Its goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Today, it provides varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants and their derivatives.

What does CoP17 cover?
#CoP17 is the largest global gathering of people focused on wildlife trade, attracting CITES Parties, intergovernmental and international and national organizations, the private sector, philanthropists, local and indigenous groups, NGOs and experts from multiple disciplines. #CoP17 will consider and decide upon 62 Proposals from 64 Parties to amend the Appendices to the Convention by including new species, moving species from one Appendix to another or by changing the annotation (notes) related to the species. This will affect close to 500 species of wild plants and animals. The conference is in session from Sept. 24 in Johannesburg, South Africa through to Oct. 5th.

A few items on the agenda include:

  • The interrelationship between illegal trade in elephant ivory and legal trade in mammoth ivory
  • Tackling corruption as it affects illegal wildlife trade
  • Improving controls on the international trade in hunting trophies
  • Restricting the legal trade in live elephants
  • Managing the destruction of government-held ivory stockpiles
    More of these can be read at

How does CITES work?
Any of the threatened species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection that they need.

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances and commercial trade in wild taken specimens is prohibited.

Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be strictly regulated 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.”

A 2/3 majority is required to list a species on Appendix I or Appendix II. If a proposal is voted down than parties can propose a species for listing again in another future CoP for as many times as they wish.

Must a Party comply to the listing results?
Participating parties are encouraged to take interdependent action to support a listing after the meeting, however they are able to announce that they have reservations about a listing, and do not have to comply. You can find parties that have had reservations about listings here. CITES listings only affect international trade of species, so if a species is killed and sold domestically – it’s not covered by CITES. A CITES listing does not provide that species full protection but it does help with the conservation of some threatened species by regulating or limiting their trade.

What are the current proposals of species up for listing?
These include several mammals, amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles, cephalopods and plants, affecting more than 500 species. Among that list is the Wood Bison, Southern White Rhino, all eight species of the Pangolin, African Elephant, Lion and Thresher Sharks to name a few. You can read the full list of proposals here.

You can stay in the know on Twitter by following the hashtag #COP17 to keep up to date!

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