Largest-ever World Wildlife Conference opens in Johannesburg with calls for changes to protection levels of 500 species of wild animals and plants

Updated on 12 January 2021

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not an official document.



Largest-ever World Wildlife Conference opens in Johannesburg with calls for changes to protection levels of 500 species of wild animals and plants


  • CITES #CoP17, the largest-ever meeting of its kind, will consider 62 proposals to change CITES trade controls affecting close to 500 species put forward by 64 countries from across every region. Over 2,500 delegates, including those representing more than 180 countries, are due to attend. CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon has described the conference as “one of the most critical meetings in the 43-year history of the Convention”.
  • Changes to trade controls for the African elephant, white rhinoceros, lion, pumas, pangolins, silky and thresher sharks, devil rays, nautilus, peregrine falcons, African grey parrot, crocodiles, flapshell turtles, the Titicaca water frog and psychedelic rock gecko, as well as the Grandidier's baobab tree and many species of rosewood, and other animals and plants will all be decided upon.
  • CITES Parties will consider new decisions on combating corruption and cybercrime, the better use of modern forensics and specialized investigation techniques, anti-money laundering, and enhanced cross border cooperation in combating illegal wildlife trade, as well as targeted demand reduction strategies.
  • Decisions will be taken on matters affecting domestic trade in elephant ivory, trade in mammoth ivory, management of ivory stockpiles, international trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, and a decision making mechanism for ivory.
  • In total, there will be over 120 side events, including the screening one of the winners of the UN World Wildlife Day Elephant Film Festival in March this year.
  • The inaugural Youth forum for People and Wildlife will take place ahead of #CoP17 in Johannesburg. The forum, a first for CITES, will bring together 34 committed young leaders (aged 18-25) from 25 countries around the world to work on issues such as animal welfare, wildlife conservation, wildlife trade and sustainable community development.

Johannesburg, 23 September 2016- The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will hold its triennial conference at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September - 5 October 2016, known as #CoP17 or the World Wildlife Conference. This is the first time CITES has met on the African continent since 2000.

Over 2,500 representatives, including from more than 180 governments, intergovernmental organizations, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, philanthropists and businesses are expected to attend the meeting, which comes amidst heightened international concern about the sustainability of wildlife resources, upon which livelihoods, national economies and regional security depend. Over 250 media have also registered for #CoP17.

CITES is a legally binding agreement which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It does so by monitoring, listing and regulating legal and sustainable wildlife trade and by combating illegal trade in wildlife. It currently regulates trade in over 35,000 species of wild animals and plants.

John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention said: “The scope and coverage of the Convention will be tested when the 182 Parties to the Convention meet in Johannesburg over the next fortnight. Parties will review the actions taken over the past three years, and map out what more needs to be done to end the surge in illegal wildlife trade and prevent unsustainable trade.

“The stakes are high under CITES and intense and robust debates are to be expected. Decisions taken in Johannesburg will have a real and immediate on-the-ground impact. They will find their way into legislation, regulation, and operating practices across the globe and will directly affect when, where and how wildlife and wildlife products can be traded. Decisions taken here at CoP17 will affect wildlife and ecosystems, people and economies.”

On the eve of #CoP17, the South African Government will host a High Level Ministerial Meeting on links between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the aims of CITES. It will focus on the challenges posed by illegal trade in wildlife and the opportunities presented by legal and sustainable trade, and the role of CITES in advancing the SDGs.

Dr. Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa said: “Advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its vision of People, Planet and Prosperity necessitates now more than ever that countries work together as a collective,” adding: “this High Level Ministerial meeting provides a platform for us to have robust discussions and ultimately develop a common understanding on the role of CITES in helping us attain those SDG’s with a natural resource conservation focus.”

#CoP17 will address some difficult and contentious issues to do with differing approaches amongst CITES Parties on matters affecting trade in elephants and their ivory, as well as rhino and their horn.

Sixty two proposals proposed by 64 countries will be debated over two weeks in a global effort to enhance conservation and regulate the trade in wild animals and plants. Governments will consider and accept, reject or adjust these proposals for amending the CITES Appendices at #CoP17. Unlike most other international agreements, CITES votes where consensus is not possible, with a two thirds majority required.

Proposals include the protection of marine species such as silky and thresher sharks and devil rays; plant and timber species, such as many rosewood species and the Grandidier's baobab tree and as well as African elephants, white rhinos, lions, pumas, the African Grey parrot and Nile crocodile together with many frogs, lizards and snakes.

In addition to enforcement-related decisions and resolutions to combat illegal trade in wildlife, #CoP17 will consider a powerful set of proposals to reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife specimens, and how to better engage with local communities' to ensure they benefit from the wildlife they are living amongst, reflecting the three-pronged approach taken under CITES to address poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Delegates will also review the first comprehensive survey of global wildlife forensic capacity to support the implementation and enforcement of the Convention. Commissioned by the CITES Secretariat in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it provides a comprehensive picture of laboratory capacity at the global level, for performing forensic analysis in support of CITES implementation and enforcement.

Events on plant species will highlight the close collaboration CITES has with key organizations on legal and sustainable trade in plant and timber species, and will mark the 10th anniversary of CITES collaboration with the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

CITES Parties have called for improved traceability of CITES-listed specimens in various sectors such as in caviar, luxury reptile skins, timber, and shark products. Feasibility studies have highlighted the potential benefits and challenges of putting in place traceability systems for the implementation of CITES. Parties will discuss if there is a need for overarching guidance on developing traceability projects in CITES, including for common definitions, technical standards, and governance/managerial frameworks.

#CoP17 will also consider and decide upon many proposals and documents, including:

  • A change to the Rules of Procedure for the CoP, including to recognize the first Regional Economic Integration Organization as a Party to CITES, namely the European Union that joined as the 181st party in July 2015; 
  • Establishing a rural communities committee of the CoP, to better recognize that community-based natural resource management promotes sustainable use of wildlife, and reduces illegal use and trade in wildlife;
  • The disposal of confiscated illegally traded specimens of CITES listed species;
  • National legislation to implement CITES;
  • Procedures to facilitate consistent and effective handling of compliance matters, including on legal acquisition findings;
  • CITES National Ivory Action Plans;
  • The interrelationship between illegal trade in elephant ivory and legal trade in mammoth ivory;
  • A decision making mechanism for a process of future international trade in elephant ivory, or draw the process to an end;
  • A review of the implementation of the Convention relating to captive bred and ranched species;
  • Tackling corruption as it affects illegal wildlife trade;
  • Scaling-up efforts to counter cybercrime in relation to illegal wildlife trade;
  • Strategies to reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife animals and plants;
  • Improving controls on the international trade in hunting trophies;
  • Restricting the legal trade in live elephants;
  • Managing the destruction of government-held ivory stockpiles;
  • Closing domestic markets for commercial trade in raw or worked ivory;
  • How to address wildlife products produced from synthetic or cultured DNA, such as rhino horn; and
  • The budget for the Convention’s Secretariat for the next three years.

Many of the proposals to Amend the CITES Appendices are submitted jointly, including by producing and consuming countries across different regions, and they reflect the growing international concern about the accelerating decline of biodiversity through the illegal or unsustainable trade of individual species and their parts or derivatives.

The CITES Appendices lists species that could become threatened by international trade and whose import, export and re-export is controlled through a permit system (Appendix II) and species that are already threatened with extinction, where wild taken specimens cannot be commercially traded (Appendix I).

62 proposals to amend CITES Appendices I and II

Some governments propose to remove CITES trade controls on certain species, underlining the dynamic nature of the CITES Appendices and in some instances the success of CITES in the recovery of wild populations.

The proposals to be considered at #CoP17 are as follows:

  • Animals: 49 proposals involving 119 species and five sub species
  • Plants: 13 proposals involving 372 species (over 250 timber species)
  • Transfer from Appendix I to Appendix II: 8 proposals
  • Transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I: 10 proposals
  • Inclusion into Appendix I: 7 proposals
  • Inclusion into Appendix II: 15 proposals
  • Deletion from Appendix II: 2 from which 0 extinct animal species
  • Changes to existing annotations to the Appendices: 10 proposals

“We are fortunate to have South Africa as Host government for this critical meeting, which is being held in the beautiful Sandton Convention Centre. The generosity and warm hospitality of our Host has helped set the stage for what is sure to be a remarkable two weeks,” concluded Scanlon.

Note to Editors: For more information and for interview requests, please contact Victoria Holdsworth, Head of Media, CITES #CoP17 
[email protected] or Tel: +447736773093

Useful links:


•      CITES CoP17 website

•      Host government website

Media releases

•      Sharks and rays high on CITES #CoP17 agenda

•      CITES and CBD Parties jointly prepare for key global meetings

•      CITES Secretariat presents its recommendations on proposals to amend the CITES Appendices - CITES #CoP17

•      Current rules on commercial international trade in elephant ivory under CITES and Proposals to CITES CoP17

•      Some positive signs but African elephants continue to face serious threats - CITES

•      100 days left before the World Wildlife Conference – CITES #CoP17 – kicks off in South Africa!

•      Saving lions: Africa agrees on ways forward

•      UN targets wildlife crime in the lead up to CITES CoP17

•      CITES welcomes G7 Environment Ministers Communiqué in the lead up to CITES CoP 17 in South Africa

•      Record agenda for World Wildlife Conference – CITES CoP17 – to be held in South Africa in September

Pre CoP17 opinion pieces

•      Tackling corruption will deal a lethal blow to the illegal wildlife trade – External link

•      Illicit wildlife trafficking is about people - they alone can fix it - External link

•      In a world of 7 billion people how can we protect wildlife? - External link

•      Empowering Youth To Secure The Future Of Wildlife


With 183 Parties, 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 and entered into force on 1 July 1975.

Learn more about CITES by visiting or connecting to: