Humans have always used wild animals and plants for their products, such as fruits and seeds for food, skins for clothing, wood for fires etc. Wildlife has also long been exploited for luxury items e.g. ornaments and fashion.  At one time, when there were far fewer people on Earth and a lot more wildlife, such exploitation did not have any significant effect on the overall numbers of animals and plants.With over six billion people in the world today the situation is now very different and many species of animals and plants have been greatly reduced in numbers and they will not survive for much longer. 

Wildlife and the Law

Over the last 30 years or so there has been a growing world-wide concern that trade in endangered species should be controlled. In 1973, representatives from 80 countries met in Washington to draw up a formula for trade controls and licences. As a result of this meeting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was formed. The purpose of CITES is to decide which species in trade are in danger of becoming extinct and to establish laws to stop them from being pushed any closer by international trade. There are now at least 126 member countries and their representatives meet every two years for discussions and to decide whether any changes are needed. Environmental organisations can attend the conferences to contribute to the debates and to lobby the delegates.

When a country joins CITES, its government must pass laws to control or prohibit trade in live or dead specimens and parts or derivatives of them. The amount of trade allowed depends on which 'Appendix' (group) the species has been listed in. The rules for deciding which species should be listed in which appendix were set down at the very first CITES conference in Berne, Switzerland, in 1976, although they have been revised since then. Any member country can put forward a species for listing, or changing to another appendix, but to be adopted, two thirds of the delegates must vote for the proposal. A proposal is usually a scientific report summarising the best available information on the status of the species and the impact of trade on it. The Convention cannot control trade between two countries who are not CITES members, but fortunately the number of member countries is slowly increasing year by year.

There are three appendices:

Appendix I
trade is totally banned for primarily commercial purposes.

Appendix II
potentially threatened species for which trade is allowed if there is "no detriment" to the species: quotas (the numbers of individuals traded) may be imposed.

Appendix III
species requiring additional protection in their country of origin

Read More: Enforcing the law

Related Resources