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January 12, 2010

Why CITES Matters

Decisions are made that affect the fate of internationally traded wildlife

Humane Society International

  • Polar bears are running out of time. Irving N Saperstein/iStockphoto

  • A U.S. proposal would be harmful to bobcats. Alain Pons/Photo Alto

Once every three years, delegates from 175 countries meet to decide the fate of dozens of species of animals and plants that are traded internationally. In March 2010, 2,000 people will assemble in Doha, Qatar, for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). At stake is nothing less than the continued existence of critically endangered species, as well as preventing international trade of threatened species at risk of becoming even more imperiled.

Capturing and killing animals for the wildlife trade—just behind the drug trade and the arms and ammunitions trade in total commerce—does not just result in the loss of species, but in grossly inhumane treatment of animals. A case in point from the last CITES meeting in 2007: the slow loris. You may have never heard of this wide-eyed species of primate who lives in Asia, but exotic pet traders have. Captured from the wild, stuffed into cages and displayed to potential buyers in Asian marketplaces: until 2007, that was the sad fate of many slow lorises. However, at the last CITES meeting, slow lorises were placed on CITES Appendix I, which banned international commercial trade. While there is still some illegal trade, now hundreds of lorises every year are spared from the cruel exotic pet trade.

Ahead of the next CITES meeting, a new slate of animals and plants to be considered has been announced. The questions before the delegates include: Should hundreds of polar bears be killed every year to supply the international trade in polar bear skin rugs? Should hundreds of thousands of Central American tree frogs be captured from the wild every year to supply the international exotic pet trade? Should the international trade in millions of sharks be regulated to ensure that wild populations are not being wiped out by the trade? Should Tanzania and Zambia be allowed to sell ivory to Japan and China, or should there be a 20-year moratorium on ivory trade? Should we allow unregulated international trade in the skins of bobcats who have been trapped in cruel leghold traps and who closely resemble the critically endangered Iberian lynx?

Humane Society International is already on the campaign trail, urging country delegates to vote for animal protection. Working with our 80 partner organizations from around the world—all of which are members of the Species Survival Network—we are fighting for the right answers to the questions posed above.