What exactly is CITES?

This is a 4 part article by Rick Jordan of AFA explaining exactly what CITES is, The Difference Between CITES and the US Endangered Species Act, Some of CITES resolutions pertaining to Parrots, and The AFA CITES Committee.

 Part 1:  What exactly is CITES?

1. The term "CITES" stands for "Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species".

2. CITES is an international "treaty" that went into force in July of 1975. The aim is to ensure that international trade in certain species of plants and animals did not threaten their existence. Today more than 30,000 species are afforded certain protections under the treaty, ranging from live specimens of Panda bears to fur coats or alligator wallets. The signatories of the treaty have vowed to honor the "regulations" put forth under the Convention.

3. Today over 150 countries (Parties) worldwide have signed onto and vowed to honor the Treaty. Each country then assigns its own governmental agency that will monitor the Convention and enact any protections that are "passed" or "agreed" at the Convention of the Parties (COP). In the United States, the President has assigned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as our representative to CITES. This makes the USFWS responsible for upholding the rules of the treaty and to make sure the United States abides by any "Resolution" (Agreed rule) of the Convention.

4. In addition to governmental Parties, others, called "Observers" or "Non governmental Observers" (NGOs) may attend the Convention or the subcommittee level meetings to provide input to the governing Parties. The purpose of the NGOs is to offer scientific data about the species or genera with which they have expertise. The American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. is an official Non governmental Observer to the Convention. The AFA CITES Committee chairman provides input and makes comment to the USFWS with regard to avian species and the International trade of birds worldwide.

5. Keep in mind that CITES is an International Treaty, and that the resolutions put forth at the Convention go to the many participating countries to be incorporated into their domestic laws. Although CITES cannot and will not get involved with domestic law or trade, its many resolutions must be used by all participating countries when they issue permits or participate in any International movement or trade of listed species.

6.  CITES listings, the actual plants and animals that are covered by the Convention, are divided into three "Appendices". These appendices are conveniently numbered as Appendix I, Appendix II, and Appendix III. Those species listed on Appendix I to the Convention are the most critically endangered, where as those listed on Appendix II are there so that close monitoring of any trade will be accomplished to prevent them from becoming endangered. Appendix III is a list where each individual country can place a species if it has concerns about trade within or from its own country. All parrot species except the cockatiel, budgie and ring-necked parakeet are listed on CITES Appendix II. Ring-necked parakeets are listed on Appendix III by Ghana, and therefore any movement or trade in this species will require a certificate of origin to assure the members of CITES that the birds did not originate in Ghana (who has requested the special protection of its ring-necks by placing them on Appendix III).

7.  Listing criteria for a species is based on its "range" in the wild, NOT on its populations in captivity around the world. This is often very frustrating for aviculturists as they do not understand why a "common" bird would require special permits for export. A good example of this would be something like the "Scarlet-chested parakeet" which is listed on CITES Appendix I due to its rarity in the wild. Yet, here in the United States, and virtually across the world, Scarlet-chested parakeets are very common and breed readily in captivity.


Part 2: The Difference Between CITES and the US Endangered Species Act

1. Many aviculturists are confused about our wildlife laws and how they "interact" with each other. One of the most confusing points is that CITES Appendix I listed species are not always "US Endangered Species". This is because the USESA or United States Endangered Species Act protects or lists species that meet certain criteria, not necessarily the same as the criteria to list them on CITES Appendix I.

2.  Many of the larger macaws are listed on CITES Appendix I, and therefore their International trade is prohibited except as captive-bred birds. CITES Appendix I includes the Spix's macaw, Lear's, Scarlet, Military, Buffon's, Caninde, Hyacinth, and Illiger's macaws. Yet the USESA does not include any of these except the Spix's and Lear's macaws. So, for all intents and purposes here in the United States, we can freely exchange, breed, or possess any of these birds except the Lear's or Spix's macaw within our State, or in interstate commerce. To trade or sell a Spix's or Lear's macaw from one State to another would require federal permits. The arms of the CITES Convention only affect International movements at this point in time. The USFWS is working on incorporting many of the resolutions into our domestic laws for the future.

3.  Currently the United States Endangered Species Act includes the following parrot species (found here in aviculture) and any movement across a State line that involves money or commerce would require federal permits. To loan or donate one of these species to another breeder in another State, or within your own State does not require the federal permit. It is also legal to sell these bird within your own State!  NOTE: All of these species are also listed on CITES Appendix I and would require US Federal and CITES permits to ship in International Commerce.

Lear's and Spix's Macaws

Vinaceous, Red-browed, Puerto Rican, Red-necked, Red-tailed, St.

Vincent's, Cuban amazons.

Golden Conures, Thick-billed parrots, Pileated Parrots (South American),

Hooded parakeets

4. Even though we call many of the parrot species now found on CITES Appendix I, Endangered, for our purposes here in the United States, they are not regulated unless we plan to ship them across an International border. The list of CITES Appendix I parrots is extensive and includes many of the birds we breed and sell into our domestic pet trade. For a complete list, you can contact the USFWS in Washington, at 800-358-2104.


Part 3: Some of CITES resolutions pertaining to Parrots.

1.  Parrots are an important focus under CITES. Literally every meeting of the Parties involves some discussion about parrots and their International trade under the treaty. The many NGO groups provide data pertaining to parrots in the wild, and the current status of their habitats and numbers. Many of the NGO groups that attend would be familiar to bird breeders. Some of them include the North American Falconer's Association, The Humane Society of the United States, PETA, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Counsel, Save the Whales, Animal Welfare Institute, Enviornmental Investigation Agency, AFA, WWF, Traffic, European Falconer's Association, and many many more. These and other NGO organizations contribute their input to each and every discussion regarding the trade in birds and other animals.

2.  CITES also has subcommittees. The one that would include birds is called the "CITES Animal's Committee". These committees are charged with gathering information to be presented at the formal Convention of the Parties. Much of the work that would pertain to the AFA is accomplished at this committee level. Thankfully the committee level is a little more personal than the COP meetings, and it is easier to raise concerns or present information that will then be used to formulate suggestions to the COP Parties.

3. One of the most important resolutions affecting parrot breeders pertains to International Trade in Appendix I species that were bred in captivity. The Convention provides for trade in Appendix I species as if they were on Appendix II- if they are bona fide captive-bred animals. On the surface it sounds like something very easy to qualify, however, the Parties have had much trouble defining "Bred in Captivity" in such a way that it would not affect "wild" birds and animals covered under Appendix I. Technically, the definition used can not affect any animal that was taken from the wild. Therefore, the definition that has been adopted eliminates all F1 (first generation captive-bred animals from qualifying because their parents were wild-caught). This way, to qualify as an animal "bred in captivity", an animal must be F2 (second generation captive-bred) or higher to be considered for trade as an Appendix II listed species. Furthermore, CITES has devised a "system of facility registration" where governmental organizations can verify that animals are actually being bred to the second generation. Unfortunately, the rules under these resolutions have been so confusing and so rigid that there are only a handful of registered bird breeding facilities that have even registered for this exemption under CITES. The whole system is being reviewed and will probably be changed at the next meeting of the COP.

4. Another subject of heated debate at these meetings is the term "for commercial purposes". Under the Convention, a government must ascertain whether a facility breeds its animals for "primarily commercial purposes" or whether they are a "non-commercial" entity. After many discussions it has been agreed that unless you breed an animal species for a direct release program or approved conservation program, you are considered a commercial breeder and therefore must qualify under the current registration scheme in order to engage in International trade with an Appendix I species...traded as Appendix II. On the surface this angers many breeders as they often consider themselves as a non-commercial breeder. But technically all breeding is commercially driven unless all offspring are placed back into a conservation program that directly benefits the wild population of the same species. This means that if you have only one pair of Appendix I birds, and you breed them and sell your offspring to other breeders or the pet trade, you are a commercial breeder! Even many zoos are considered "commercial facilities" if they do not participate in "Species Survival Plans" that eventually will directly benefit the species in the wild. Under CITES, the trade in CITES Appendix I species for commercial purposes is strictly controlled......

5.  Habitat preservation and restoration is not a primary part of CITES and its resolutions at this time. However there have been several important discussions about how the Convention can begin to include such conservation. It will be very interesting to see just how they resolve this issue.

End of Part 3

Part 4: The AFA CITES Committee

1.  The AFA has a committee devoted to CITES. This is not a new committee, but has been in existence for many years. If you  research some of the old Watchbird Magazines, you will see that this committee goes way back, back to the time of the late Val Clear, and more recently, it was headed by the late Al McNabney. Today, the committee chairman is myself, Rick Jordan, and I have two co-chairs, Martin Muschinski (Yea, like I can spell that!!-Im sure Ill hear from Marty on this spelling problem I have! ) on the West Coast, and Dr. Susan Clubb on the East Coast. The current Members of the committee include Janis Clark, Natalie Frumin, Dwight Greenberg, Dr. Carol-Lynn Meissner, Lyrae Perry, Mark Moore, Roberta Ryder. I've been very lax in keeping up the communication within the committee, probably because the work that has to be done is often "local". Plans are in the making for a newsletter to be issued within the committee to improve communication amoung us.

2.  The committee has been designing and selling lapel pins and artwork in order to fund attendance to the Animal's Committee meetings and the COP. MUCH of the credit and work is being accomplished by Lyrae Perry and Mark Moore, also of the AFA Store. The original concept of selling pins to fund the committee was my idea, but with input from the committee members it has become a major project including art prints of each pin subject, and limited edition prints, matted and framed and even sterling silver coins depicting the Spix's macaw. To see all the available products, visit the AFA's website at <http://www.afa.birds.org>www.afa.birds.org.

3. The purpose of the committee is to participate in the CITES meetings and to assist the USFWS when information about parrot breeding is needed. Of course this input often goes directly to the CITES Animal's committee, but you would be surprised how often we agree with what the USFWS offers on the same subjects. The USFWS has granted the AFA official NGO status, and the chairman of the Animal's committee has extended an official invitation for the AFA committee chair to attend the Animal's committee meetings. The next meeting is April 8-14th in San Jose, Costa Rica. Last year's meeting was in Hanoi, Vietnam, and we decided that this meeting would be missed by the AFA based on the proposed agenda items.

4.  If you have any specific questions as to the function of the AFA CITES Committee, please forward them to this list today so I can answer them. I am very excited about AFA's participation in this International Convention, and I am very proud of the accomplishments of this committee...we are virtually the ONLY U.S. parrot breeders that attend the CITES Conventions and Committee Meetings.

End of Part 4:

Last updated: March 17, 2002

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