CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora & Fauna

The full form of CITES  is Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is an international agreement between governments with an objective of the preservation of the planet’s plants and animals by ensuring that the international trade in their specimens does not threaten their survival. It was adopted in 1963 and entered into force in 1975. 

The topic, ‘CITES’ is important for the IAS Exam. Check similar topics from the links given below:

To check previous year Environment  & Ecology Questions from UPSC Mains GS 3, check the linked article. 

What is CITES?

  • CITES was conceptualised in 1963 at a meeting of the (IUCN) International Union For Conservation Of Nature.
  • It came into force in 1975 and consists of 183 member-countries till date that abide by CITES regulations by implementing legislation within their own borders to enforce those regulations.
  • Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the CITES is administered by the United Nations under its UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Wing.
  • The Convention of Parties to CITES is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention and comprises all its Parties.
  • The last CoP (17th) was held at Johannesburg (South Africa), in 2016. India hosted CoP (3rd) in 1981.
  • Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties, it does not take the place of national laws.
  • Rather, it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level.

Important Environment Conventions and Protocols

CITES Classification or CITES Appendix

CITES classifies plants and animals into three categories, based on how threatened they are.

  • Roughly 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade.

They are listed under the three CITES Appendices that are mentioned below:

Appendix Description  Examples of Species
CITES Appendix-I
  • Species that are in danger of extinction
  • Commercial trade is prohibited.
  • Permits are required for import and export.
  • Trade permitted just for research only if the origin country ensures the trade won’t harm the species’ chance of survival. 
  • Asiatic lions and tigers (tiger skin trade).
  • Sea turtles, gorillas, lady slippers orchids (most species), etc.
  • Total 931 species on the list.
CITES Appendix-II
  • Species that aren’t facing imminent extinction but need monitoring so that any trade doesn’t become a threat.
  • Trade permits obtained legally and only if the origin country ensures that its harvesting and trade won’t harm the species’ chance of survival. 
  • American Alligators (Alligator skin trade)
  • Paddlefish, Mahogany, corals, etc.
  • Total 34,419 species on the list.

CITES Appendix-III

  • Species that are protected in at least one country.
  • Regulations for these species vary, but typically the country that requested the listing can issue export permits, and export from other countries requires a certificate of origin.
  • Honeybadger (medicinal or bushmeat purpose)
  • Walruses, Map turtles, certain beetles, etc.
  • Total 147  species on the list.
  • Species may be added to or removed from Appendix I and II, or moved between them, only by the Conference of the Parties.
  • However, species may be added to or removed from Appendix III at any time and by any Party unilaterally.

Structure of CITES

The following image from the CITES official website ( https://www.cites.org/) gives the structure:

CITES - Structure of CITES

CITES COP

The Conference of the Parties (COP) meet every two to three years. The latest COP was CITES COP18 that took place in August 2019 at Geneva, Switzerland. CITES COP3 took place in India in 1981 in New Delhi.

CITES India

  • India is a CITES Party since 1976.
  • Due to its extreme diversity, India is recognized all over the world for harbouring up to 7-8% of all the species recorded by CITES.
  • Out of 34 global biodiversity hotspots in the world, India has 4 of them: Western Ghats, Sundaland, Himalayas and Indo-Burma region.
  • As an active CITES Party, India prohibits the international trade of endangered wild species. 
  • India has placed several measures to control the threats from invasive alien species.
  • This is done by regulating the trade by export certificates and import permits. 

India at COP18/2019

India proposed to boost the protection of the following animal species:

  • Smooth-coated otter & small-clawed otter
  • Indian star tortoise
  • Tokay gecko
  • Wedgefish
  • Indian rosewood

India wants to re-list two otter species, star tortoise in CITES Appendix I, and Tokay gecko and Wedgefish in CITES Appendix II.

Also read: Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

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