Empowering Young Leaders in Wildlife Conservation and Trade: Global Youth Network Launched in Singapore at the CITES Youth Leadership Programme

Updated on 01 May 2024


Singapore, 25 April 2024 – After four intensive days of teambuilding and discussions, interactive activities at the zoo on illegal wildlife trade related themes, a high-level leadership panel discussion, and a simulated Conference of the Parties (CoP), the CITES Youth Leadership Programme concludes today. The first of its kind, the youth-led programme was hosted by Singapore on 22 to 25 April 2024. It brought together 41 young leaders aged 18 to 30 from diverse countries and backgrounds in sustainable wildlife trade and conservation to establish the CITES Global Youth Network (CGYN). This network is kickstarted by youth leaders with support from the National Parks Board (NParks) of Singapore and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

© Shenn Tan

CGYN aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and networking for youths to better understand the intricacies of wildlife trade from an early stage. This is important as they will in time take on the mantle of wildlife conservation, inform and influence conservation efforts in their various countries, and help our planet move towards a more sustainable future.

The CITES Youth Leadership Programme brings youth leaders together to collectively envision future youth initiatives under CGYN. These youths were nominated by CITES Parties (i.e., Management Authorities, Scientific Authorities, and Enforcement Authorities) and observer organisations, and collectively represented 31 countries from all six of the CITES regions. It is crucial to ensuring that youths are empowered and equipped with the skills and contextual knowledge required to contribute constructively to discussions surrounding CITES processes and regulatory mechanisms, global environmental leadership, and biodiversity conservation. 

The inaugural CITES Youth Leadership Programme (CYLP) was 5 months in the making and was organised by a group of Singaporean youths led by CGYN co-founders Steffi Tan and Ting Wai Kit, under the guidance of NParks, the CITES Secretariat, and Mandai Nature. The initiative was catalysed through partnerships with Temasek Foundation and other donors via the Garden City Fund – an NParks charity and registered Institution of a Public Character (IPC). This follows the announcement to establish CGYN at the 77th Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in November 2023 made by CGYN Co-founder Steffi Tan, who also serves as Manager in the Wildlife Trade Branch of NParks, the national CITES authority of Singapore. The announcement was met with resounding support by fellow CITES Parties. 

© Jayden Kang

Over the course of the carefully crafted four-day agenda, participants engaged in a series of thought-provoking discussions, hands-on activities, and immersive experiences across various venues in Singapore. The programme kicked off at the Fort Canning Centre, with a welcome address from NParks CEO Hwang Yu-Ning and an opening address by CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero. 

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said: “We are immensely proud of the energy and enthusiasm displayed throughout the programme. The youth delegates’ engagement and commitment reaffirm our belief in the power of youth to actively engage in the conservation of our biodiversity as innovative, compassionate and inclusive youth leaders.” 

On Day Two, youths gained firsthand insights into the challenges of combating illegal wildlife trade through exploring the Centre for Wildlife Forensics and Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation, and participating in an activity at the Singapore Zoo modelled after The Amazing Race television show. 

In another CITES first on Day Three, the youth participants experienced the global negotiations and proceedings of a CITES Conference of the Parties through a simulated CoP activity. Held at the Building and Construction Authority Academy, the exercise provided participants with a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of international environmental governance in the CITES context. 

This was followed by the High-level Panel Discussion on Global Environmental Leadership, which featured distinguished leaders in CITES-related wildlife conservation and trade issues, namely CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero, Singapore’s Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee, and New Zealand Department of Conservation Senior International Advisor and CITES Standing Committee Member, Sarah Bagnall. The discussion explored strategies for fostering global collaboration and leadership in conservation efforts, inspiring participants to consider their own leadership roles and futures as part of the youth network and in their careers. 

© Shenn Tan

Minister Lee said: “I am honoured that Singapore is hosting the first CITES Global Youth Network Youth Leadership Programme. Very proud of our youth leaders here in Singapore who have worked to bring together youths from 31 countries to learn more about international environmental governance, and collectively shape the future of CGYN. Through the enthusiasm and passion of these youths, I am hopeful that we can push for a sustained, collaborative effort in combatting illegal wildlife trade and ensuring the long-term survival of our biodiversity. I would also like to thank our partners, including Temasek Foundation and Mandai Nature, for supporting the inaugural Youth Leadership Programme, and I hope to see more of such partners step forward to support and empower our youth leaders in their future endeavours.”

Day Three closed on a vibrant note with a Cultural Night celebration, where participants had the opportunity to showcase and share their diverse cultures with each other through music, dance, and traditional performances. 

The last day brought the participants to the Botany Centre at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to reflect on their experiences, establish the framework of the CGYN Leadership Committee, and chart a roadmap for the future of the youth network. 

The success of the programme underscores Singapore's commitment to combating illegal wildlife trade through research, education, legislation, and a whole-of-government enforcement approach as it transforms into a City in Nature, as well as the support and interest of the CITES Secretariat to work with CITES Parties and youth groups to create educated and engaged youth networks that can inform and influence conservation decisions.

Generous financial support from the Government of Switzerland supported the participation of the youth delegates, made possible with the administrative support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia. 

To learn more about the CITES Global Youth Network, follow CGYN on social media: 



Editor’s Notes: 

For CITES-related media enquiries, please contact [email protected] 

For general CITES enquiries, please contact [email protected]

For NParks-related media enquiries, please visit www.go.gov.sg/nparks-media-query

About CITES 

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. 

Follow CITES on social media: 

Find out more: https://cites.org/eng 

About the National Parks Board of Singapore (NParks) 

The National Parks Board (NParks) of Singapore is responsible for enhancing and managing the urban ecosystems of our City in Nature. We are the lead agency for greenery, biodiversity conservation, and wildlife and animal health, welfare and management. We are also working closely with the community to enhance the quality of our living environment.

NParks manages some 400 parks, 3,347 hectares of nature reserves, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Pulau Ubin and the Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Adding to this is the extensive network of Nature Ways, and the over 380 km Park Connector Network that links major parks, nature areas and residential estates island-wide. Every year, we run about 3,000 educational and outreach programmes across our various green spaces.

NParks has developed an urban biodiversity conservation model, which aims to conserve representative ecosystems in land-scarce Singapore. NParks also monitors and coordinates measures to enhance the presence of biodiversity in our urban landscape.

NParks is working closely with partners in the landscape, horticulture, veterinary and animal sectors to increase productivity, and provide training for all levels of the workforce. 

As Singapore transforms into a City in Nature – a key pillar of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which is a national movement to advance sustainable development – NParks’ efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade will also help to strengthen Singapore’s conservation of native biodiversity in our nature reserves and parks.

For more information, visit www.nparks.gov.sg and www.facebook.com/nparksbuzz