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The 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was held in Bangkok, Thailand on October 2-15, 2004.  CITES is an international treaty designed to control and regulate international trade in certain plant and animal species--including the trade of many public display animals--that are now or potentially may become threatened with extinction due to international trade. 

The CITES COP, which occurs every 2 -3 years, drew together participants from 166 signatory nations (Parties), 11 inter-governmental organizations, and 139 international and national non-government observers (NGOs).  There are currently 166 nations that are Parties to CITES, including the United States. 

AZA has been actively involved in the CITES process for the past 20 years—attending both the Conference of the Parties meetings and the inter-sessional Animals Committee meetings during that time. At the Bangkok COP this year, the AZA delegation was represented by:

            Kris Vehrs, Deputy Director – AZA

Steve Olson, Director of Government Affairs, AZA

            Edward Asper, President/CEO, Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum

            Lynn McDuffie, Registrar, Disney's Animal Kingdom

            Bruce Beehler, Deputy Director, Milwaukee Zoo

            Eric Zeehandelaar, F.J. Zeehandelaar, Inc.

            Craig Potter, Zoological Society of San Diego

Representatives from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the Wildlife Conservation Society and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) were also in attendance at the COP.


The mechanisms by which CITES Parties regulate wildlife trade are through controls and regulations on species listed in three Appendices. Appendix I includes species endangered due to international trade. Trade of such species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix II species require strictly regulated trade based on: quotas and permits to prevent their unsustainable use; and controls aimed at maintaining ecosystems and preventing species from becoming eligible for Appendix I.  Appendix III species are subject to domestic regulation by a Party which requests the cooperation of other Parties to control their international trade.

Proposals to list, uplist or downlist a species contain scientific and biological data on population and trade trends. The proposal must be supported by a two-thirds majority vote of Parties present at a COP to be adopted. There are approximately 5,000 fauna species and 25,000 flora species protected under the three CITES Appendices. As the trade impact on a species increases or decreases, the COP decides whether or not the species should be shifted between or removed from Appendices.

CITES also regulates international trade of species through a system of permits and certificates. Each Party is required to adopt national legislation to provide official designation of a Management Authority responsible for issuing these permits and certificates based on the advice of a designated Scientific Authority. These two designated national authorities also assist with CITES enforcement through cooperation with Customs authorities, police, or other appropriate agencies, and maintain trade records that are forwarded to the CITES Secretariat, enabling the compilation of statistical information on the global volume of trade in CITES-listed species.


The COP meeting provides the opportunity for the Parties to submit proposals to amend the Appendices. Amending the Appendices may include the addition, deletion, uplisting or downlisting of species.  A total of fifty (50) fauna and flora proposals were submitted to COP13 to amend the Appendices. Thirty-four (34) proposals were adopted, fourteen (14) were withdrawn and two (2) were rejected. 

Among the many species proposals which were adopted, the following may be of most interest to AZA members: 1) the uplisting of Irrawaddy dolphin from Appendix II to Appendix I;  2) the downlisting of the Swaziland population of southern white rhinoceros from Appendix I to Appendix II;  3) the downlisting of the bald eagle from Appendix I to Appendix II;  4) the adoption of the proposal to allow for: a) the trade in leather and hair goods from the Namibian population of African elephants for commercial purposes and b) the trade in individually marked and certified ekipas (worked African elephant ivory) from the Namibian population for non-commercial purposes;  5) the adoption of the proposal to allow for the trade of leather goods from the South African population of African elephants for commercial purposes;  6) the listing of great white sharks under Appendix II; and  7) the listing of humphead wrasse under Appendix II.

AZA is very interested in the species proposal process and monitors the proposals closely in order to identify trends in Party deliberations and votes.  In this COP, a few interesting trends did develop related to species proposals.  First, the listing of great white sharks and the uplisting of Irrawaddy dolphin were adopted even though it was clear that the greatest threats to their respective populations were not commercial trade but rather habitat loss and fishery by-catch.  Nonetheless, the Parties were concerned that any take of these species for trade purposes could greatly impact the species’ fragile populations.

Secondly, the Parties’ decisions on the South African and Namibian proposals for African elephants and the Parties’ decision on the Swaziland proposal for southern white rhinos emphasized the Parties’ increased recognition that range countries that have successful wildlife conservation and management programs must be given due recognition of these successes as well as specific incentives to continue their good works.  The Parties’ adoption of proposals allowing these countries to engage in limited trade of African elephant leather, hair and worked ivory (all from elephants that have died of natural causes) for the purposes of building and sustaining in-country conservation programs emphasized this recognition.

Lastly, two proposals which would have exempted in vitro cultivated DNA, cells/cell lines cultivated in vitro, urine/feces, medicines and other pharmaceuticals, and fossils from the provisions of the Convention were withdrawn from consideration due to strong opposition from the Parties.


Commercial vs. Non-commercial Operations

The CITES COP also provides the opportunity for the Parties to submit resolutions to provide guidance in implementing the Convention.  At the Bangkok COP, the zoological community was very concerned about one specific resolution dealing with commercial vs. non-commercial operations.  The distinction between commercial and non-commercial is critically important, and would affect the daily operations of those AZA member institutions wishing to acquire Appendix I-listed species (wild-caught and captive-bred specimens alike).   AZA has long held that zoos and aquariums are non-commercial entities under the terms of reference for CITES.  If zoos and aquariums were deemed to be commercial operations, they would no longer be eligible to import wild-caught Appendix I species because such imports are limited to “not for primarily commercial purposes.”   In addition, these facilities would not be able to acquire captive-bred Appendix I species unless they were registered as commercial captive breeding operations for the species involved.  Most zoos and aquariums would not qualify for registration as a captive breeding operation.  Registration is very strictly defined by CITES.  According to the definition adopted by CITES, an operation may only be registered if specimens produced by the operation qualify as “bred in captivity.”  Any individual zoo or aquarium would not likely be able to meet the definition as a commercial captive breeding operation because they would not be breeding sufficient numbers of specimens and have all the requisite documentation, independent of other zoos and aquariums.  Thus, any change to the distinction between commercial and non-commercial would have a devastating effect on our international cooperative breeding programs.   

The resolution in question at this COP was submitted by Israel.  In essence, the resolution sought to expand previously adopted resolutions regarding the terms of reference for commercial activities under the Convention.  Currently, when a Party is determining whether the import of an Appendix-I species is commercial or not, it must only look at the final use of the specimen, not the nature of the transaction to acquire the specimen.  The current resolution accepts that a commercial transaction may underlie many of the transfers of Appendix I species from one country to another however, “this does not automatically mean that the specimen is to be used for “primarily commercial purposes.”  The Israeli resolution would have specified that the nature of the transaction must also be taken into account as part of the determination of the intended use of the specimen to ensure that a commercial transaction does not underlie the transfer of Appendix I species from one country to another. 

AZA was deeply concerned with this proposal and met with a number of Party representatives, including the U.S. delegation urging them to reject, or at least modify, the proposal.  In the end, the U.S. delegation offered an alternative to the Israeli proposal.  The alternative, which was adopted by the Parties, directs the CITES Standing Committee to conduct a review of trade in Appendix I species, through UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and to draft recommendations to ensure that such trade is in accordance with the CITES Convention and its resolutions.  This review should take into account all export, re-export, and import of Appendix I specimens, including species name, descriptors, source and purpose codes, and the identification of existing exemptions for the last five years.  While similar studies such as this are required for Appendix II species, this is the first time that such a study has been adopted for Appendix I species.  The report is due at the 14th meeting of the COP in Spring 2007.

Registration Evaluation

The Parties considered a document submitted by the CITES Animals Committee on the evaluation of registration of operations that breed Appendix I species in captivity for commercial purposes.  The aim of the document was to suggest ways to make this registration procedure less complicated.  The CITES Secretariat also weighed in on this issue by suggesting that the utility of internationally registering operations that breed Appendix I species is dubious and that the procedures for registering such operations are “unnecessarily complicated and over-bureaucratic.”

Many Parties supported the AC recommendations and were opposed to the Secretariat’s suggestion that the registration may not be needed.  Ultimately, a working group was established which developed a revised resolution.   

In that resolution, the Parties urge that the Management Authorities work closely with captive-breeding operations to prepare responses to a series of informational inquiries regarding their breeding operations; and to provide incentives to captive-breeding operations to register.  The revised resolution also encourages: 1) Parties to provide application forms to operations that wish to be registered and 2) importing countries to facilitate import of Appendix I species from registered captive-breeding operations.  The revised resolution was adopted by the Parties.

Relationship Between ex situ  Breeding and in situ Conservation

The Parties considered a document submitted by the CITES Animals Committee on the evaluation of the effects of ex situ operations on the in situ conservation of captive-bred Appendix I species and the identification of possible strategies by which registered or non-registered ex situ breeding operations may contribute to enhancing the recovery or conservation of CITES-listed species within the country of origin. 

A revised resolution was ultimately developed and adopted by the Parties.  The resolution urges: 1) Parties with ex situ operations that breed Appendix I species to seek cooperative measures that would support in situ conservation for resources generated by those operations; 2) Parties to recommend to ex situ operations that breed Appendix I species within the Range State to support in situ conservation programs; and 3) Parties to consider that such conservation support should consist of, inter alia, technical support, contribution of funds, exchange of specimens for reintroduction into the wild, capacity building and training, technology transfer, investment, infrastructure and other measures to support in situ conservation.  A draft decision was also adopted by the Parties which directs the CITES Standing Committee to decide on an appropriate way to continue to analyze the relationship between ex situ production and in situ conservation in the context of CITES.  The Standing Committee will also establish terms of reference for the CITES bodies involved in this work, set timelines for the work to be done, and report on progress at the 14th CITES Conference of the Parties.

Great Apes

The Parties considered a proposal by Ireland on behalf of the European Union on the conservation of, and trade in, great apes.  The proposal states that the long-term survival of great apes in the wild is dependent on a concerted global conservation effort.  The proposal urged Parties to implement a wide range of conservation actions and directed the Standing Committee and the CITES Secretariat to assist and review progress in this regard.

Some Parties focused their discussions on a clause in the EU proposal which urged the Parties to refrain from using great apes as diplomatic gifts.  Uganda raised objections to this clause.  After substantive debate, the clause was removed and the following language was substituted:  Parties are urged to: “limit the international use of great apes to nationally approved zoological institutions, education centers, rescue centers and captive breeding centers in accordance with CITES”

The AZA delegation had two primary concerns with this new language: 1) “international use” is not a term of reference for the Convention and thus leaves the meaning of this clause broad and vague.  International trade is the more operative terminology; and 2) AZA staff was unaware of any national approval process for zoological institutions.  The AZA delegation met with the U.S. delegation to get clarification on the meaning and repercussions of the term “nationally approved” and we were assured that by the issuance of a CITES permit, an applicant would automatically  be considered as nationally approved.  The AZA delegation also discussed our concerns with other Parties in hopes of having them re-examine the revised resolution but most of these delegations were not interested in opening up the debate on this issue because they, too, said that they would follow the U.S. logic.

Transport of Live Specimens

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) withdrew from a proposed MOU with CITES and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).  The CITES Secretariat proposed that the CITES Animals Committee clarify how IATA manuals and regulations can be mechanisms through which up-to-date guidance on the transport of live CITES-listed animals and plants can be provided, thus replacing the CITES Transport Guidelines.  The Parties concurred with this proposal and an amendment for developing recommendations regarding preparation of live animals for transport.

Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles

The Parties approved a report on the conservation of, and trade in, tortoises and freshwater turtles which urged Parties, inter alia, to ensure that shipments are transported in compliance with relevant IATA guidelines and to facilitate developing partnerships between NGOs to develop and operate rescue centers for seized and confiscated tortoises and freshwater turtles.

Appendix-I Species Export Quotas
Leopards:  The Parties approved Namibia’s proposal to increase its annual export quota from 100 to 250 specimens for leopard hunting trophies and skins.  The Parties also approved South Africa’s proposal to increase the export quota for leopard from 75 to 150 specimens.

Black Rhinoceros:  The Parties approved both Namibia’s and South Africa’s proposals for an export quota of five adult male black rhinoceros hunting trophies each.


The proposed bushmeat resolution was adopted along with two decision documents.  The resolution advises Parties to, inter alia, 1) prohibit the offtake of Appendix I species for consumption as food and to encourage sustainable offtake of Appendix II and III species; and 2) identify alternative sources of protein and other measures to reduce the demand for bushmeat. 

The decisions, inter alia, direct Parties to continue the CITES Bushmeat Working Group--renamed the “Central Africa Bushmeat Working Group”-- that will report at COP 14; and invite the FAO to convene a workshop to facilitate the development of an action plan to tackle the socio-economic and environmental issues associated with the unsustainable trade in bushmeat.

Next Up

The 14th Conference of the Parties will be held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in the Spring of 2007.  It will again be important that AZA be well represented at that meeting.  CITES decisions affect not only the international conservation efforts of fauna and flora, but also can affect the day to day operation of zoos and aquariums and the viability of AZA conservation and research programs.  AZA has been effective in shaping CITES proposals that affect zoos and aquariums.  However, the CITES attendees need more input from the SSPs, TAGS, SAGS and AZA members regarding specific species listing proposals to be even more effective.



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