Press release: UNESCO calls for closer cooperation with CITES to protect World Heritage Sites

Updated on 12 January 2021

For use of the media only;
not an official document.



UNESCO calls for closer cooperation with CITES to protect World Heritage Sites

Selous Game Reserve included in the list of World Heritage in Danger

Geneva, 23 June 2014 –  At its 38th Session held in Doha last week, the World Heritage Committee expressed its utmost concerns about the impacts of poaching and the associated illicit wildlife trade on World Heritage  sites and called for strengthened cooperation with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

At the same meeting the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania was (with the concurrence of Tanzania) included on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, owing to the poaching crisis affecting this reserve. Large numbers of elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, hippos and crocodiles live in this immense sanctuary, which measures 50,000 Km2. Selous game reserve joins seven other Sites already on the In Danger list.

Half of the 14 African World Heritage sites monitored under the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme are now on the “in danger” list, namely Comoé (Cote d`Ivoire), Niokolo-Koba (Sénégal); Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga and Okapi (all in the DRC) and Virunga (DRC and Uganda).  The CITES Secretariat is working with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to better protect these iconic sites. 

Selous Game Reserve is a site monitored by CITES under its  Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, which was established at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (Harare, 1997). The government estimates that the elephant population in the Selous and Mikumi game sanctuaries has declined from 38,975 in 2009 to an estimated 13,084 today and CITES estimates that in the past year alone, over 20,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa.

The decision adopted by the World Heritage Committee followed the Director General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, and the Secretary-General of CITES, Mr John E. Scanlon, jointly expressing concerns in 2013 over the impacts of poaching and related illicit wildlife trade on World Heritage sites in Africa.

"The collaboration between CITES and the World Heritage Convention is pragmatic and targeted on critical sites that are being decimated by poaching for the illicit wildlife trade.  Our collaboration has strengthened over the past two years, and will now be further enhanced to help States in implementing CITES decisions," said Mr Scanlon.

The decision of the Committee states:

"Reiterating its utmost concern about the continued impacts on World Heritage properties due to the rising pressure from poaching, particularly of elephant, rhinoceros, and valuable timber species, linked to a growing illicit trade, and the increasing involvement of organized crime in this lucrative business, reiterates its request to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN to strengthen their cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to assist States Parties to implement the measures taken by the 16th Conference of the Parties of the CITES, and urges States Parties to ensure strong international collaboration and coordination to control the illicit trade in flora and fauna and their products".

A total of 16 MIKE sites are World Heritage sites or are part of larger World Heritage properties. Fourteen of these are in Africa and two in Asia. A comparison between the period 2002-2010 and 2011 shows that most World Heritage sites in elephant range are being seriously affected by poaching. Four of these World Heritage sites (Comoé, Kahuzi-Biega, Niokolo-Koba and Taï) have never reported any data to the MIKE programme, or have only reported once. With the exception of Taï, which may still harbour over 180 elephants, elephant populations in these properties are believed to have been reduced by poaching to the point of becoming unviable or even locally extinct.

See the full MIKE analyses on World Heritage Sites at: /sites/default/files/eng/cop/16/doc/E-CoP16-53-01.pdf

See joint op-ed by Ms Bokova and Mr Scanlon: Wildlife crime is robbing the future of Africa - Jeune Afrique at:  /eng/news/sg/2013/20130809_wildlife_crime_cites_unesco.php

All documents related to the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee are available at

The document with the decision is available at:

CITES 65th Standing Committee Agenda and reports (July 2014) are available at: /com/sc/65/index.php

CITES press release welcoming GEF-6 biodiversity strategy (June 2014) can be seen at: /eng/CITES_welcomes_GEF-6-biodiversity-strategy

See also UNODC 'Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime' (June 2014):

Note to editors:For more information, contact Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or [email protected].


With 180 Member States, CITES remains one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, housing, health care, ecotourism, cosmetics or fashion.

CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.

CITES was signed in Washington D.C. on 3 March 1973.

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