CITES is an acronym that refers to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty that formed an agreement regarding trade in specimens of wild animals and plants. Currently, CITES regulates trade in over 30,000 species of organisms and wildlife products (e.g., food products, exotic leather, and medicines.)
Countries join CITES voluntarily, but once they do, they are bound by the rules of the treaty. Eighty countries agreed upon the original CITES language in 1973, but today, 175 countries (known as Parties) belong to CITES.
The CITES Parties meet every 2-3 years to discuss progress in conservation and to amend the lists of species protected as part of the agreement.
Species are listed in CITES under one of three Appendices.
- Appendix I species are the most endangered animals and plants. CITES prohibits international trade in these species with few exceptions (e.g., if the purpose of the specimen is for scientific research).
- Appendix II lists species that may become extinct unless trade is well-controlled.
- Appendix III lists species at the request of a country that already regulates trade in the species, when the country needs cooperation of other countries to enforce the trade regulations (e.g., to prevent exploitation of the species.)
For more details, see this CITES Appendices file on the CITES web site.