UNESCO World Heritage Convention and CITES unite to cooperate on conservation and sustainable wildlife trade in species occurring in World Heritage sites

Updated on 20 July 2023


Paris / Geneva, 11 July 2023 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Secretariat to the World Heritage Convention and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) signed a landmark agreement on Monday 26 June 2023 in a new effort to ensure the sustainability of trade in species of wild animals and plants occurring in areas of outstanding international importance inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

CITES SG and UNESCO Director of World Heritage signing MoU UNESCO World Heritage sites are among the planet’s most critical areas for, among others, in-situ conservation of biodiversity.  Up to 1/3 of the remaining elephants, tigers and pandas and at least 1 in 10 great apes, lions and rhinos are found in these sites. Many UNESCO World Heritage sites are therefore important for species included in the CITES Appendices. Collaboration between the Secretariats and at a national level between the relevant authorities is essential to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of these species and to address illegal harvesting and associated illegal trade that threatens not only the species involved, but also the outstanding universal value of the sites. 

“This significant agreement provides a new dimension to the already solid collaboration between CITES and the World Heritage Convention. The strong complementarity between CITES focusing on species and World Heritage focusing on the protection of their habitats in the World Heritage sites and intensifying our collaboration will make our efforts in these sites more effective for the benefit of biodiversity and for people living in and around these sites,” said Ms Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General.   

“UNESCO World Heritage sites protect over 20,000 threatened species, many affected by illegal or unsustainable wildlife trade, this is why we must work across the World Heritage Convention and CITES to protect our natural heritage to future generations,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, Director of World Heritage.  

Madagscar AtsinananaIt has been estimated that up to half of animal species included in the CITES Appendices can be found in UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the case of the vaquita, a porpoise threatened with imminent extinction, the entire remaining population is occurring in one UNESCO World Heritage site, the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico). UNESCO World Heritage sites also harbor significant biodiversity in plant species whose trade is regulated by CITES. These include ebony wood, palisander and rosewood found in the Rainforests of the Atsinanana UNESCO World Heritage site (Madagascar).  

The Secretariats have a longstanding cooperation on the conservation of CITES-listed species in UNESCO World Heritage sites, meeting regularly as part of the Liaison Group of Biodiversity-related Conventions.  

Under the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed online on Monday, the two Secretariats agreed to intensify efforts to implement the 1972 World Heritage Convention and CITES, including by promoting in-country cooperation among national stakeholders.  

Ensuring the sustainability of the use of wild species is among the key targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity by countries in December 2022 to halt biodiversity loss and this MoU will also provide a basis for collaboration towards this Framework.


Editor’s Notes:


  • Left: Ms Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General; Right: Lazare Eloundou Assomo, Director of World Heritage
  • Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Madagascar) © OUR PLACE - The World Heritage Collection

For more information, please contact: Sofie H. Flensborg ([email protected]) or Guy Debonnet ([email protected])

About the UNESCO World Heritage Convention

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972, which links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

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The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 July 1975. With 184 Parties (183 countries + the European Union), it remains one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade in over 40,900 species of wild animals and plants. CITES-listed species are used by people around the world in their daily lives for food, health care, furniture, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal and traceable and contributes to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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