Without regulation, international trade in plants and animals can pose serious risks to species by depleting wild populations, leading to their extinction. 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ensures that international trade in plants and animals is legal and does not threaten species survival in the wild. CITES works to facilitate biologically sustainable trade, whenever possible. However, in some cases, no level of commercial trade can be supported. 

CITES-protected species are included in one of three Appendices:

Appendix I

Includes species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade and provides the greatest level of protection. International trade in these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances and cannot be primarily for commercial use. Both an import and export permit (or re-export certificate) are required for trade. Species on Appendix I include gorillas, sea turtles, giant pandas, and most lady slipper orchids.

Appendix II

Includes species not currently threatened with extinction, but that may become so without trade controls. It also includes species that resemble other listed species and need to be regulated in order to effectively control the trade in those other listed species. An export permit (or re-export certificate) from the country of export/re-export is required for trade, but no import permit is needed unless required by a country’s national law. Most species protected by CITES are listed in Appendix II, including American ginseng, American alligators, paddlefish, lions, mahogany, and many corals.

Appendix II fact sheet

Appendix III

Includes species that are protected in at least one country which needs assistance from other Parties to regulate trade. If exporting from a country that included the species in Appendix III, an export permit from that country is required. If exporting from any other country, a certificate of origin from that country is required. If re-exporting, a re-export certificate from the country of re-export is required. Species on Appendix III include map turtles, walruses, and Cape stag beetles.

appendix iii fact sheet

Approximately every two to three years, a meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) is held to consider proposed changes to CITES Appendices and make decisions about implementing and enforcing CITES provisions.