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Legal wildlife trade worth billions

 InDepth News 07 July 2019

Global wildlife trade has increased significantly since 1975, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed. But not a single one of some 34,000 species listed by the Convention has become extinct as a result of boost in trade. (876 Words) - By Indira Srivastava


The source of this good news is CITES secretariat in Geneva, which estimates international wildlife trade to be worth billions of dollars. It includes hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines.

CITES Trade Database, which registers legal trade in wildlife, holds over 10 million records of trade, with an average of 850,000 permits to trade in a CITES-listed species issued annually by the Convention's 175 member States.

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.

From medicine to musical instruments and from fashion and beauty products to delicacies, wildlife items in trade must be properly regulated to ensure the continued survival of animals and plants in the wild.

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.

"Growing pressures on biological resources make regulating global wildlife trade even more relevant today than it was in 1975 when countries brought this unprecedented global treaty into force," said CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon, as the Convention celebrated its 35th anniversary on July 1, 2019.

With the accession of Bahrain announced ´June 30, CITES will have 176 Parties, while it had only 10 Parties 35 years ago, including Switzerland, which hosts the Convention's Secretariat, and the United States where the text of the Convention was adopted.

"By being a pioneer in adopting trade measures to prevent overexploitation and relying on scientific advice for the authorization of wildlife trade, CITES has put the machinery in place to contribute to the improved management of the key natural assets of our planet", said Ambassador Betty E. King, Permanent Representative of the United States mission to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva.

"Switzerland is very proud to host a biodiversity-related Convention that is able to deliver concrete conservation results. We hope that the international community will build on its successes for many more years to come to contribute to alleviating poverty and stopping the decline in global biodiversity", added Mr Thomas Jemmi, Deputy Director General of the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office, the CITES Management Authority of Switzerland.

"This treaty was visionary because it was able to put practical trade rules in place for the use of terrestrial and marine species, before the global boom created by the liberalization of trade and the acceleration of transactions via Internet. CITES is thus part of the transition to a resource efficient 21st century Green Economy", said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which administers the CITES Secretariat.

CITES-listed species that are traded in significant volumes include species as diverse as orchids, crocodiles and sea shells. More recently, CITES has been used to address the precarious situation of marine and timber species, such as the great white shark and mahogany.

The Web-based CITES Trade Data Dashboards, unveiled on the occasion of 35th anniversary, use the trade data from the annual reports of the Parties to provide an instant overview of the magnitude of wildlife trade per country and per species group, such as mammals, birds or fish. For instance, the Dashboard provides a way to see general trends, such as "trade volume over time"; "top 10 trading partners", "top 5 items" and "trade by source (for example. wild or captive breeding)".

"The International Year of Biodiversity offers an opportunity to both reflect upon the past successes and mobilize efforts to address current and future challenges. CITES has a proven track record in managing wildlife trade internationally. Its ongoing relevance and ability to adapt to changing circumstances are essential to the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife," concluded Scanlon.


CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Widespread information nowadays about the endangered status of many prominent species, such as the tiger and elephants, might make the need for such a Convention seem obvious. But at the time when the ideas for CITES were first formed, in the 1960s, international discussion of the regulation of wildlife trade for conservation purposes was something relatively new.

With hindsight, the need for CITES is clear. CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington on March 3,2019, and on July 1, 2019 the Convention entered in force.


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Originally published by InDepth News. ©

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