CITES Secretary-General's remarks at the US Department of State World Wildlife Day Reception - Washington DC, USA

Updated on 12 January 2021

Big Cats: Predators Under Threat

‘CITES turns 45 as we celebrate the 5th World Wildlife Day’

1 March, 2018, Washington DC, USA



Director Christine Dawson

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Walsh


Friends of Wildlife!

I can think of no more appropriative place to be celebrating World Wildlife Day than right here in Washington DC, as it is what took place here on 3 March 1973 that served to inspire the Parties to CITES and the UN General Assembly in 2013 to declare 3 March as World Wildlife Day.

On 3 March 1973 CITES was signed here in Washington DC at a Plenipotentiary Conference convened by President Nixon, and co-hosted by the Department of State and Department of Interior, to conclude negotiations on a treaty to regulate international trade in wildlife. This treaty is now known as CITES or the Washington Convention. This Conference was called, the ‘World Wildlife Conference,’ which is the name we now give to our three yearly Conference of the Parties.

Not only did the US convene the Plenipotentiary Conference where CITES was signed but it was also the first country to sign the Convention and it has been a steadfast supporter of CITES ever since, financially, politically and technically.

It is worth remembering that up until 1973 there were no global controls over international trade in wildlife and it was the legislation and policy practice of the US at the time that helped to shape the text of the Convention. For example, the need to certify the legal origin of wildlife specimens in trade can be traced to the US Lacey Act and the need to keep records of international trade in wildlife follows the practice adopted in the US in the 1960s.

The US government was possibly the only country at the time keeping detailed records of wildlife imports and it shared its statistics from 1969 at the Plenipotentiary Conference to help make the case for the need for the Convention and the US Government’s own figures of imports into the US in 1969 demonstrated the urgent need to put into place a Convention to regulate international trade in wildlife. If not, we could unwittingly trade species to extinction. These figures included the import of just under 8,000 leopard skins, close to 1 million live birds, over 1.4 million live reptiles and almost 99 million live fish!

Today is the fifth celebration of World Wildlife Day, and it is also the 45thtth Anniversary of CITES.

The theme of this year’s Day is Big cats: predators under threat. Big cats face multiple threats to their survival, be it loss of habitat and prey, poaching and smuggling, human-wildlife conflict or climate change.

These threats are all caused by people. People can be quite destructive, but people can also be extraordinarily creative, and this World Wildlife Day we are highlighting not just the threats to big cats but also the many extraordinarily creative efforts being made by people the world over to make sure big cats can survive in the wild.

And today is also the perfect time to celebrate the vision and commitment of the people who pioneered this ground-breaking Convention here in Washington DC 45 years ago, including the gifted negotiators, as well as the many thousands of people who are working tirelessly on the front-lines to protect big cats and other wildlife species – yesterday, today and every day.

CITES is an inspiring example of successful international cooperation and national action that gives us all hope for a sustainable future in which people and wildlife can coexist in harmony. As this is my last occasion here as Secretary-General, I would like to conclude by most sincerely thanking the Government and the people of the US for their longstanding and steadfast support for CITES and for wildlife both here and abroad.

Thank you.