IUCN Congress Milestone: Establishing CITES

More than 50 years ago, IUCN Members began the call for international regulations on the trade of rare or threatened flora and fauna. The resulting CITES convention has helped protect thousands of species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) Photo: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)

In the 1960’s, the idea of using international trade regulations for wildlife protection and conservation was relatively new. IUCN had only just begun to take stock of rare and threatened mammals and birds in the Red Data Book which later became the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In the mid-1960’s, the first Red Data Book was published and made publicly available. With facts in hand, the public began to put pressure on governments to restrict animal imports from countries that lacked protections for Red Listed species.

This was difficult to achieve. National governments had limited information on regulations in place in other countries, and even less information about whether these regulations were enforced.

At the 8th IUCN Congress, held in Kenya in 1963, delegates began calling for the creation of an international convention to regulate trade of rare or threatened species to ensure that international trade of wild animals and plants did not threaten their survival.

IUCN took the lead in drafting the convention and circulated an initial draft of the proposed convention 1964.  Subsequent drafts were circulated to all members of the United Nations in 1967, 1969 and 1971. 

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 (also known as the Stockholm Conference) called for a conference to adopt the proposed convention. Thus, the Plenipotentiary Conference to Conclude an International Convention on Trade in Certain Species of Wildlife was held from 12 February to 2 March 1973 in Washington, D.C. It was attended by representatives from 80 countries.

After much debate, delegates agreed on the final text of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and created three lists of species requiring regulation, Appendix I, II and III. On 3 March 1973, 21 Countries signed the CITES Convention and made wildlife protection history.   

CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975 after it was ratified by 10 countries. 

CITES has continued to grow over the years. There are now 181 Parties to the Convention, and around 5,600 animal species and 30,000 plant species listed for trade protection.

IUCN’s Commissions and Secretariat continue to be heavily involved in CITES. IUCN provides data and information from the IUCN Red List to enable Parties to the Convention make evidence-based decisions on issues related to trade of plants and animals.

The goal is to ensure that international trade does not threaten species survival.

Click here for a brief history of CITES. 

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