What is CITES and how does it work?

CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The Convention was created in 1975 to protect wild animals and plants from overexploitation through international trade.

Approximately 178 countries having signed CITES, and more than 30,000 plant and animal species are now protected.

• CITES is legally binding and protects wild animals from overexploitation through international trade.
• CITES applies three levels of protection to endangered animals in international trade.
• CITES import and export permits are issued when trading listed animals or their parts.
• CITES is enforced using domestic legislation in each country

CITES outlines three levels of protection for species in international trade:
Level 1: Species may not be traded internationally for primary commercial purposes. However, these species may be traded internationally for non-commercial purposes.
Level 2: Species may be traded internationally for commercial purposes, but this trade is strictly controlled.
Level 3: This is a voluntary Appendix in the CITES document to which any Party can unilaterally add species. This indicates that the species is subject to regulation within the Party’s jurisdiction and needs the cooperation of other parties to monitor and control trade.

CITES and the White Rhino

All rhino species were originally listed in CITES’ Appendix I in 1977. This meant that the commercial trade in rhinos, or their parts, was banned.

Then, to allow the export of live animals and hunting trophies of the Southern white rhino in South Africa and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) the subspecies was transferred to Appendix II in 1994 and 2004 for each country, respectively. The international trade in rhino horn remained banned.

The white rhino
A white rhino

Since then there has been a massive debate as to whether the southern white rhino should remain in Appendix 2 or move back to Appendix 1.

Some parties believe that the international trade of live rhinos and their horns should be legalised, and others believe they should be fully protected.

The first group believe that if the trade in rhino horn is legalised, it will result in more controlled movement of rhino horn, reducing the need for illegal poaching. It would also encourage the harvesting of rhino horn sustainably and humanely. The funds from the sale of rhino horn would greatly benefit the protection of the species, their habitat and other wildlife.

The second group believes that by legalising the trade in rhino horn, more opportunities and loopholes will be created for the criminal poaching syndicates to exploit. Some members of this group also raise the question of game farmers breeding excessively until they’re left with domesticated rhinos from a small gene pool. This group raises the concern that the motives of the second group are purely monetary and not sustainable in the long terms.

With the rhino conservation community remaining so polarised, the question is how does everyone work together in the best interest of the southern white rhinos.

How do we ensure that our future includes this magnificent animal still roaming the wilderness?

Originally posted on Sense Africa.

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