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Another CITES Conference of the Parties has concluded, with a mixed bag of results. The sheer volume of press releases and social media commentary can be confusing, even bewildering. And so here is a brief summary of the main decisions that affect African species.


– CITES appendix I: No legal international trade.

– CITES appendix II: International trade is permitted, subject to issue of export permits by relevant authorities.

©David Winch
©David Winch

1. Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa requested the legalisation of international trade in ivory.

Request denied.

2. The Elephant Coalition (29 countries) and Botswana requested that elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe be up-listed from CITES appendix II to I.

Request denied.

Note that elephants in all other African countries are already on CITES I and that the CITES II listing for the four countries above prohibits international trade in ivory. In effect the trophy hunting of elephants in those four countries and other countries (where the CITES I classification specifically permits hunting) will continue unaffected, as will the sale of live elephants. Elephant trophies may be exported, subject to specific bans already in place by target countries, but ivory may not be traded internationally (domestic sales are permissible).

©Kelly Winkler
©Kelly Winkler

Swaziland requested that they be allowed to trade internationally in white rhino horn.

Request denied

Note that white rhinos are listed on CITES II, with an annotation preventing the trade in rhino horn. South Africa permits domestic trade in rhino horn – although there are ongoing legal proceedings in this regard.

©Janine Avery
©Janine Avery

Several nations requested the up-listing of lions from CITES appendix II to CITES appendix I, which would kill the growing trade in lion bones and other parts.

Request denied, but no wild lion parts may be traded. Lion parts from captive-bred lions can be traded by South Africa, with that country required to set quotas and report to CITES each year.

In effect this decision entrenches and legitimises the lion breeding programmes in South Africa, and opens up possible channels for the laundering of wild lion parts. Trophy hunting of wild and captive-bred lions continues unaffected.


Request to up-list all pangolins from CITES II to CITES 1 was approved

Grey parrots

Request to up-list grey parrots from CITES II to CITES 1 was approved

This means that no wild-caught grey parrots can be traded internationally. Breeders can trade internationally in captive-bred grey parrots if they register their breeding facility with CITES (which will require upholding of specific standards) and permitting processes. There is no restriction on breeders selling captive-bred grey parrots domestically.

©David Winch
©David Winch

Request to increase protective measures against the exotic pet trade (cheetahs are already on CITES 1) was approved. States agreed to co-operate more fully, and emphasis was placed on a unified approach for social media platforms.

Sharks and rays

Request made to up-list silky sharks, three species of thresher sharks and nine species of mobula rays to CITES appendix II was approved. This means that trade in these species will now have to be proven to be sustainable.

Parting thoughts

Although these changes provide a few more tools to prevent illegal international trade, they are only as effective as the degree to which the law is respected, applied and enforced. Most trafficking of wildlife happens outside of the law, and I am not convinced that any of these changes will have significant positive effects. Some of them might even drive illegal trade deeper underground than it is currently.

There seems to be an enormous void between CITES and those empowered on the ground to implement effective conservation strategies. What also comes through from social media chatter is a growing sense that CITES is purely an elite United Nations club, of frustration that foreigners with no understanding of the reality on the ground get to make fundamentally important decisions, and that it’s time for Africa to be in charge of its own wildlife management decisions.

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