CITES regulates the worldwide commercial trade of wild animal and plant species.
The discovery of new species of organisms and the demand for such species to be kept in captivity (for research, trade or as pets) increased several folds in the early 1950’s. This resulted in a large-scale capturing of endangered animals and plants from the wild, the non-regulated trade of which could trigger a lot of environmental disasters including the spread of diseases to the extinction of species. Keeping these in mind, an international agreement was adopted in 1973 by 80 members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources at Washington D.C.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates the worldwide commercial trade of wild animal and plant species. CITES ensures international trade does not threaten the survival of any species of plants or animals. Since 1973, the number of state parties to the convention has grown to more than 170.
They classify the traded animals and plants under 3 categories (appendices). Appendix I lists species that are in danger of extinction. It also prohibits outright the commercial trade of those plants and animals; however, some may be transported internationally in extraordinary situations for scientific or educational reasons. Appendix II lists species that are not threatened with extinction but might suffer a serious decline in number if trade is not restricted; their trade is regulated by permit. Appendix III species are protected in at least one country - a CITES member that has petitioned others for help in controlling the international trade of that species.
In addition to plants and animals and their parts, the agreement also restricts trade in items made from such plants and animals, such as clothing, food, medicine, and souvenirs. By 2009, more than 5,000 animals and 28,000 plant species had been classified.
So, exotic pet owners, it is your responsibility to be familiar with CITES and obtain all necessary legal documents for your special companion.
The author is a wildlife biologist with specific interest in herpetology and conservation.