CITES Turns 50: International Trade Agreement Must Do More to Respond to Global Biodiversity Crisis

World Wildlife Day 2023 official design by Xavi Reñé
Image by Xavi Reñé

Washington, DC—Today, on World Wildlife Day, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the only international treaty specifically designed to address the direct exploitation of species involved in international trade. CITES has achieved much over the past five decades. However, it must do more to alleviate the current biodiversity crisis by immediately taking substantive actions to protect the multitude of species exploited for trade that are not protected under CITES.

On March 3, 1973, representatives from 80 countries met in Washington, D.C., to approve CITES language, following a resolution adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The intergovernmental agreement marked a global recognition of the need to protect thousands of species of animals and plants, including elephants, tigers, sea turtles, and cacti, from rampant overconsumption. CITES has since been ratified by 184 countries.

AWI has been there from the beginning, taking part in the first meeting to establish CITES and playing an active role since. More than 30 years ago, AWI also helped co-found the Species Survival Network (SSN), an international coalition of nearly 90 organizations that works to strengthen CITES and address the increasing threat of wildlife trade to global biodiversity. AWI’s Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award, which recognizes the extraordinary efforts of those engaged in combatting wildlife crime, is traditionally presented by the secretary-general of CITES at the SSN reception at each meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP).

Nearly 40,000 species of animals and plants are currently protected by CITES, and CITES protections have aided in preventing the extinction of the most imperiled. Yet the vast majority of wildlife species traded around the world are not covered by the agreement, and international trade in live animals and animal parts and products has increased tenfold compared to nearly 50 years ago.

As the planet faces an unprecedented loss of biodiversity, with more than 1 million species threatened with extinction and exploitation, AWI, the Center for Biological Diversity, and 48 other animal welfare and conservation organizations delivered a letter this week to the CITES parties and secretariat urging them to proactively protect large groups of species in need before they experience steep declines, as well as strengthen scientific decision-making and ensure adequate funding to fully meet CITES’ mandate.

“The next 50 years of CITES lay before us,” the organizations wrote. “Biodiversity is dramatically threatened by a combination of factors, and CITES has a critical role to play as part of the solution to the crisis.”

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128

The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.