When the World Comes Together to Tackle Wildlife Trade

Millions of imperiled animals are plucked from the wild each year for the wildlife trade. In November 2022, countries from around the world will gather for the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, aka CITES, to decide which species need saving from this trade.

What is CITES?

CITES — officially called the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — is an international agreement among 184 countries that aims to protect species by regulating their trade. The Convention has been in force since 1975, and its terms, unlike those of many other international agreements, are legally binding and enforceable. The treaty is designed to foster international cooperation in protecting both animals and plants from over-exploitation through international trade.

What is CoP19?

Every three years, the countries that have approved the Convention, known as “Parties” to CITES, meet in person to decide which species get which protections from international trade. Known as the “Conference of the Parties,” the November 2022 meeting in Panama is CITES’ nineteenth and is called CoP19.

At CoP19, the Parties will vote on proposals to protect species. The animals up for protections include an amazing array of reptiles and amphibians, wild-looking candy cane sea cucumbers, everyone’s favorite water horse — the hippo — plus an aquarium fish, sharks and rays. The Parties will also decide whether to open trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, which could be disastrous for these imperiled species, and will negotiate future work on behalf of pangolins, elephants, vaquitas, leopards, seahorses, lions, marine turtles, leopards, rhinos and more. Protecting a species or passing a measure requires a two-thirds majority vote.

What role does the Center play at the CITES meeting?

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to fighting the extinction crisis.

Exploitation is a key driver of species loss — it’s the primary driver of marine extinctions and the secondary driver of terrestrial extinctions. The planet is losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimating it could lose 1 million species in the coming decades if humans continue business as usual. CITES’ role of combatting overexploitation through international trade is needed now more than ever. The situation is especially urgent for reptiles and amphibians, who are suffering dramatic declines: About 47% of amphibians and 25% of reptiles are at risk of extinction.

Attorneys and scientists from the Center will be attending CoP19 to share expertise with the Parties and advocate for necessary wildlife protections. In particular, we’ll press for measures to regulate burgeoning turtle exports from the United States and for all proposals responding to the astounding loss of reptiles and amphibians globally. The Center opposes trading in ivory and rhino horn and supports efforts to close domestic markets for imperiled species and reduce demand, including in the United States. We’ll advocate for new standards to clamp down on trade in imperiled sea cucumbers, hippos and sharks. We’ll also continue our long history of advocacy for vaquitas and totoabas in the Gulf of California in Mexico and for elephants, leopards, aquarium fishes, lions, pangolins and rhinoceroses. Our lawyers will also aid in critical legal negotiations over how the Convention is interpreted and implemented.

According to IPBES, only transformative change will address the biodiversity crisis. We urge CITES Parties to meet this moment with ambition, vote for conservation at CoP19, and plan for the next 50 years of CITES to save life on Earth.

Our CITES CoP19 briefing outlines and explains the Center’s positions on key proposals at this year’s conference. También tenemos una versión en español.

Check out our press releases to learn more about the Center's actions related to CITES.

For more information about CITES or the Center for Biological Diversity’s role in the Convention, please reach out to any of these people with our International program: International Legal Director and Senior Attorney Tanya Sanerib, International Program Director and Senior Attorney Sarah Uhlemann, Senior Mexico Representative Alex Olivera, Staff Scientist Dianne Dubois.

Rhinocerous courtesy Center for Biological Diversity.