• CITES – Conference of the Parties 2017

The APPG takes an avid interest it meetings and conferences all around the world that seek to improve the welfare and tackle the international trade of endangered species. One such conference is CITES – COP 17.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a global agreement between governments to control international trade in threatened species. It was first signed by 21 countries in 1973 in response to increasing recognition that international trade was having significant impacts on some wild animals and plants. It is the only legally binding international agreement supporting species conservation.

Over 40 years later, CITES has proven to be a key tool supporting international conservation. There are now 183 member countries (known within CITES as Parties) with over 35,000 species listed and regulated. Species are listed on three categories with different levels of protection:

Appendix I: The most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. All trade in these species is banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research.

Appendix II: This contains species like lions and many corals that are not yet threatened with extinction but which could become threatened if unregulated trade were allowed. Also included are what are referred to as “look-alike” species that have similar physical characteristics to species on the protected list and may make enforcement challenging. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally under strict rules.

Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a given country can be placed on Appendix III at a countries request if that country requires cooperation from others to help prevent illegal trade.

Every three years Parties come together, at the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP), to decide on species protection listing and vote on resolutions and decisions that affect any aspect of trade in endangered species. Over the years CITES has expanded its role to address wider matters linked to illegal wildlife trade issues. CITES brings together law enforcement officers from wildlife departments, parks authorities, enforcement agencies such as customs and police to combat illegal wildlife trade. The 17th CITES CoP was held in Johannesburg from 25th September – 5th October 2016. Representatives from all the relevant stakeholders gathered to discuss issues affecting traded species and illegal wildlife trade.


What was achieved at CITES 17?

African Elephants: Efforts to reintroduce the potential for legal international trade in ivory were resisted. Measures were put in place to close domestic ivory markets linked to illegal trade and strengthen individual country efforts to combat poaching and trafficking.

African Grey Parrots: Secured transfer of the African Grey, under pressure from the illegal pet trade, from Appendix II to Appendix I – the highest level of CITES protection.

Anguillid Eels: Promoted need for better understanding of the populations of all 16 anguillids and the impacts of trade and other threats on their status.

Cheetahs: Ensured stronger protections for the world’s fastest land mammal, currently classed as vulnerable by IUCN and facing threats including illegal trafficking to feed foreign demand for exotic pets.

Helmeted Hornbills: Strengthened national and international measures to address the burgeoning illegal trade in Asia’s largest hornbill species, poached for its ‘red ivory’, were approved.

Asian Big Cats: Stronger and more coordinated actions to tackle the illegal trade in Asian big cats and their products were agreed. These actions focus on strengthening global law enforcement efforts and reducing the risk of products from animals held in captive facilities entering the illegal trade.

Pangolins: Secured promotion of all African and Asian species of pangolin from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, reflecting the pressures facing what are currently the world’s most-trafficked mammals.

Sharks and Rays: Secured the addition of the silky shark, three species of thresher shark and nine species of mobula ray (or ‘devil ray’), facing increasing pressure from overfishing and unsustainable trade, to CITES Appendix II.

Rosewood Tree: Strict regulations were imposed on the trade of all species of rosewood tree. The CITES committee recommended the inclusion of Rosewood in Appendix II (with the exception of the strand of the species that is already included in Appendix I).

Rhino: The pressure was maintained on two of the countries most heavily implicated in the illegal rhino horn trade: Mozambique as a transit and exit point for horn leaving Africa and Vietnam as the principal end-use destination. A proposal from Swaziland to legalize rhino horn trade was defeated in light of widely held concerns about the intensity of current illegal markets, although the proponent raised important questions regarding the very real challenge of financing conservation action to protect their rhinos and other wildlife.

CITES 17 saw a number of firsts, including:

  • A resolution on corruption and wildlife crime;
  • Decisions on cybercrime and wildlife crime;
  • Resolution on strategies to reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife;
  • Resolutions affecting the helmeted hornbill and snakes;
  • Decisions on targeting the illegal fishing of and trade in totoaba, and the related illegal killing of the vaquita;
  • Resolution and decisions on youth engagement in CITES; and
  • Decisions on rural communities’ engagement, providing a greater voice for local people in managing wildlife.

Other notable outcomes include:

  • The rejection of a Decision-Making Mechanism (DMM) for a future trade in ivory;
  • An agreement to close domestic markets in ivory where they contribute to poaching or illegal trade;
  • The rejection of all proposals to change the protection of Southern African elephant populations;
  • Stricter monitoring and regulation of hunting trophies to bring them under trade control measures, including recommending conservation benefits and incentives for people to conserve wildlife;
  • A decision to conduct a study to improve knowledge on regulation of trade in the European eel, and to look more broadly at all Anguilla eels;
  • An agreement to undertake specific work on marine turtles to understand the impact of international trade on their conservation status;
  • The introduction of a captive breeding compliance process to check the authenticity of specimens described as captive bred;
  • Acceptance of the National Ivory Action Plans as a tool for those Parties mostly affected by illegal trade in ivory, including source, transit and destination countries, to build their capacity in addressing illegal trade and ensuring compliance with the commitments they make under the plans;
  • A decision to undertake studies in legal and illegal trade in lion bones and other parts and derivatives;
  • A request to review all species listed on Appendix I to identify what measures are needed to improve their conservation status;
  • Improvements to processes to ensure that wildlife trade is sustainable, legal and traceable; and
  • Agreements on processes to improve traceability and identification of CITES-listed species.

Still to be achieved

A total ivory Ban – Some Southern African countries, which claim to have elephant populations that are stable or recovering, are asking to be allowed to resume a legal trade in ivory so that the revenue can be used to help with conservation efforts. They argue that only by allowing wildlife to contribute to national revenues can they run truly sustainable conservation policies. But conservationists argue that only a total ban will enable a proper crack-down on the massive illegal trade that is critically endangering the world’s elephant population.

In the end, neither side succeeded in having their proposals for change passed. In fact, the most significant gain for elephants was a resolution passed unanimously calling for the closure of all domestic ivory markets “that contribute to illegal trade and poaching”.

With the conference also making progress on National Ivory Action Plans, and an announcement due from China later this year about its plans to close its own domestic market, conservationists’ hope that a tipping point in the battle to shut down the international ivory trade may be on the horizon. The Wildlife Conservation Society described the package of measures agreed at CITES as “a huge win for elephants”. 

The EU – The EU blocked the proposal to give elephants the highest level of international protection possible at CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in Johannesburg. The 30 nations which comprise the African Elephant Coalition, as well as Botswana, argued for the urgent need to place all elephants on a list of the most endangered animals, called Appendix 1. This classification would have banned international trade in specimens of the species, which conservationists view as a vital step towards ending the current ivory poaching crisis. However, despite heated debate at the conference, the EU’s lack of support means elephants have not been up-listed.

 Lions – One of the few disappointments for conservationists at the conference came with the defeat of a motion to increase protective measures for African lions. Lion parts from captive-bred lions are traded around the world, and observers cite what appears to be a growing market in lion bones for medicinal purposes in Asia. But a motion to ban all trade in lion parts was defeated. Trade in wild lion parts will continue to be prohibited, but the hoped for ban on trade in captive lion parts did not materialise. Humane Society International who campaigns with Blood Lions against captive breeding of lions, called the decision a “bitter disappointment”. Yet with only 20,000 lions left in the wild, a loophole has been left open so that the big cat’s bones can still be sold to Far East markets.

Conservationists have reacted angrily over the failure of a United Nations’ summit to give African Lions better protection from hunters. Countries at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species decided to keep lions on the second level of animal protection this weekend. There had been hopes that the lions would be “up-listed” to Appendix I of CITES, instead, the summit kept the lions on Appendix II. Although there was a proviso added that trade in their bones, claws, teeth and skull will be prohibited, this only covers wild lions and means body parts from animals killed in South Africa’s infamous “canned hunts” can still be sold on the open market. Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare both criticised the CITES decision. An estimated 4,981 African lion skeletons, both wild and captive, were shipped to the Far East between 2008 and 2014 from South Africa, with Namibia also exporting 36 for commercial purposes. IFAW warns that with lions already facing threats from habitat loss and retaliatory killings for attacking livestock, trade in products and trophy hunting will only further diminish numbers of a creature that has been reduced by 43 per cent in 21 years.