CITES UPDATE: Huge wins for parrots, rhinos, sharks; lions, elephants gain some ground

African grey parrots got a resounding win at CITES yesterday, while elephants and lion vote outcomes were good for species conservation, but best wishes were not realized. Parrot Photo : © Pond 5/Panu RuangjanAfter a planned two-day hiatus, the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa, returned to vote on a number of proposals that affected parrots, lions, elephants and rhinos.

African Grey Parrots

CITES members voted decisively yesterday to uplist wild populations of African grey parrots to Appendix I, essentially putting an end to international commercial trade of the bird.

Live pet trade, habitat destruction and fragmentation have decimated African grey parrot populations in the wild. African greys are highly prized as pets due to their highly vocal nature and their ability to learn and mimic human language.

Many thanks to coalition members, the World Parrot Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, Bird Life International, Zoological Society of London, Humane Society International, Defenders of Wildlife, SSN and Pro Wildlife, who helped us advocate for more stringent protection for this species.

African lions

The African lion decisions were a little more nuanced, and we are happy that we made some progress – even if incremental – on the protection of the species.

Members voted in favor of what we think is a diluted decision by establishing a zero annual export quota for bones and claws of wild lions to be traded for commercial purposes.

However, as the only country currently commercially trading specific lion parts from captive bred lion populations, South Africa will have to establish annual export quotas for trade in these lion parts and report to CITES each year. We hope that this annotation will begin to curtail what is unfortunately becoming an emerging market, as tiger bones become more and more rare.

We had hoped for a transfer of all populations of lions from Appendix II to Appendix I, thus prohibiting any international commercial trade in lions or lion parts.

African elephants

A number of bold measures proposed by African elephant range states encouraging Parties to destroy ivory stockpiles was watered down to a decision to only develop guidelines for the management of stockpiles including disposal. It was indeed a step backward.

However, while it was good news that Parties agreed to close domestic markets of elephant ivory that are contributing to elephant poaching and illegal trade, we were hoping for a stronger commitment. It’s impressive to see China, the world’s largest consumer of ivory, take such a leadership role in pushing for the toughest measures possible to protect elephants with full closure of domestic ivory markets.


Parties today denied a proposal by Swaziland today to allow a regulated trade in white rhino horn, which would have had huge implications on the poaching of this species.

Swaziland’s proposal would have altered the existing annotation on the Appendix II listing of its white rhino population.

Swaziland’s proposal would have altered the existing annotation on the Appendix II listing of its white rhino population so as to permit a limited and regulated trade in white rhino horn. Rhinoceros are more under threat than ever from poachers due to rapidly increasing black market prices in their horn, so the failure of this proposal is a relief.


At the end of the day today, CITES members voted to give protection to the silky shark, thresher shark and devil ray by including them in Appendix II. Such a designation allows trade only if it is not detrimental to the survival of the species.

Thresher sharks were given Appendix II protection.

Then the final vote on elephants: Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe refused to accept the consensus amongst elephant range states to uplist all elephants to Appendix I. The coalition argued against it, pointing to stable populations. Ultimately, the proposal to bring all the populations up to an equal designation failed.

Botswana, which is home to the most elephants in the world, showed courage in breaking from some of their neighbors in this instance. Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said today, “Although Botswana has previously supported the limited legal ivory sales from countries that manage their elephant herds sustainably, we now recognise that we can no longer support these sales and we cannot deal with the issue in a vacuum. We must unite in solidarity with our colleagues regionally and worldwide to stop this crisis.”

We look forward to how this plays out in the future for elephant protection.

All of these votes are subject to a final in the Wednesday plenary session.

Congratulations to the entire IFAW delegation who together made this CITES such a success for animals.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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