CITES representatives and experts discuss trade and captive breeding of CITES-listed animals at UNEP-WCMC in Cambridge, UK

Updated on 12 January 2021

Geneva, 6 April 2017 - On 29-30 March 2017, representatives of the CITES Secretariat and of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) met in Cambridge with representatives of the Animals Committee and of selected Parties to discuss CITES controls on trade in captive-produced animals.

Rather than being taken directly from the wild, animals traded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are increasingly sourced from facilities where such animals are produced in captivity - although sometimes the parents of the traded specimens are from the wild. During the early years of the Convention (1975-1989), 96 per cent of animals in international trade were taken from the wild. Since then, there has been a significant change and, today, international trade in animals is mainly in specimens from captive-produced sources. This trade includes reptiles for skins and birds and ornamental fish for pets.

While the drafters of the Convention did foresee, and provide provisions to cater for, trade in such animals, they viewed this modality as an exception. At the time, the underlying policy assumption was that production in captivity was likely to affect the survival of the species less than the removal of animals from the wild. The provisions in the Convention reflected this assumption.

As the proportion of trade in produced animals increased, a number of Resolutions and Decisions were adopted by the Parties to regulate and define the terms and conditions for such production and trade. But, to date, no single consistent and coherent framework exists.

The significant increase in trade in produced animals has given rise to some concerns related to the control of the production and trade, including false or incorrect declarations of the source of the animals.

In response to these concerns, CITES Parties adopted a new Resolution on Review of trade in animal specimens reported as produced in captivity (Resolution Conf. 17.7). The aim is to ensure that the source code, i.e. the letter used on CITES permits and certificates to indicate the source of the internationally traded specimen, is applied correctly and that misuse – both intentionally and inadvertently – is detected and corrected. Misuse of source codes can have negative implications for conservation and undermine the purpose and effective implementation of the Convention.

The CITES Animals Committee at its next meeting in July 2017 is expected to select a limited number of cases of trade in animals from captive sources for further scrutiny, based on the criteria set out in the Resolution.

The meeting in Cambridge last week provided an opportunity to discuss the selection criteria and expectations for the new review mechanism. Participants also discussed new guidance material for inspecting facilities producing such animals, as well as guidance on the use of source codes. Finally, the participants discussed whether captive breeding is good for conservation of the traded species and ecosystems more broadly, as well as the purpose of the system of source codes. These reflections will feed into a broader analysis and recommendations to be produced by the Secretariat for the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties in 2019.

The Secretariat is making public the final versions of guidance for inspecting facilities producing animals in captive situations and the guidance on the use of source codes. They can be found on the CITES website at /eng/prog/captive-breeding. The guidance documents have also been translated into several South-East Asian languages (including Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese) to assist CITES officials in their work.

The meeting was made possible by financial support of the European Union and logistical and other support of the UN Environment-World Conservation Monitoring Centre.