Wild Bird Trade and CITES


Wildlife trade is big business and generates substantial revenue worldwide. Alongside the illegal trade in arms and drugs, the smuggling of animals, plants and their parts, is one of the biggest challenges in terms of combating international crime. Some flagship species for conservation, such as the tiger and African elephant, have been notably affected by this illegal activity. Nearly 4,000 bird species involving several million individuals annually are subject to domestic or international trade with finches, weavers, parrots and raptors being some of the most heavily affected groups.

Trapping for the international bird trade has been identified as a contributory factor in the threat status of one in twenty  threatened and near-threatened bird species. Some are close to extinction as a result, such as the Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea of East Timor and Indonesia; others are already Extinct in the wild, such as the Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii of Brazil. Species which continue to be threatened by legal and illegal exploitation for the bird trade include the Red Siskin Carduelis cucullata in northern South America, Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora of Indonesia and the African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus.  Some species have improved in status through successful control of unsustainable trapping and trade and/or improved harvest and trade management (e.g. Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari, Imperial Amazon Amazona imperialis).

TThe illegal trade in timber and forest products and other natural resources also has an affect on birds and biodiversity, and can be a signifcant driver of deforestation and habitat loss.  The BirdLife Partnership is active in efforts to combat the illegal trade of wildlife and natural resources, by engaging with governments and international mechanisms. The main international policy mechanism is The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

What is CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), adopted in 1973, came into force in 1975 and as of May 2013 has 178 countries  that are Parties to the Convention. The Convention aims to protect species from the detrimental effects of international trade by establishing an international legal framework for preventing or controlling trade. Species listed on Appendix I of the Convention are considered to be threatened with extinction and are not allowed to be traded commercially, while those on Appendix II are only allowed to enter international trade under specific controlled circumstances. Parties are obliged to develop national legislation effectively implementing the obligations of the Convention including setting sustainable quotas for Appendix II species. Currently 161 bird species are listed on Appendix I and more than 1,300 on Appendix II. For further details the CITES website has lots of interesting information and the full appendices.

Every 2-3 years, the Parties to the Convention meet to review its implementation and assess progress in conserving the species listed on its Appendices. These conferences offer an opportunity to amend the list of species in Appendices I and II. The Animals Committee (AC) meets between CoPs. This committee of experts was established to fill gaps in biological and other specialized knowledge regarding species of animals that are (or might become) subject to CITES trade controls. Amongst other things, it advises when certain species are subject to unsustainable trade and recommends remedial action through a process known as the 'Review of Significant Trade'.


BirdLife and CITES

BirdLife recognises the important role that CITES plays in combating the significant threat posed by the wild bird trade. BirdLife has traditionally worked to improve the implementation and enforcement of international and national legislation brought about as a result of CITES. For example, as the official Red List Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List, BirdLife contributes to the scientific reviews of proposals to change the listing of bird species on the CITES Appendices (which determines levels of control) and to the ‘Review of Significant Trade’ process (which results in recommendations and sanctions). BirdLife delegations attend the Conferences of the Parties and with government and other NGO delegations work towards optimal decisions that will support the conservation of the world’s avifauna. BirdLife engages with particular high profile species for which international trade is the primary conservation issue. For example, BirdLife is working closely with the CITES Secretariat to help improve the knowledge base and build capacity for setting sustainable harvest quotas for the African Grey Parrot.

Nationally, BirdLife Partners lobby for better domestic protection of birds and implementation of CITES through appropriate national legislation. All BirdLife Partners have identified Important Bird Areas and are establishing monitoring programmes and, increasingly, such work is providing information relevant to the sustainability or detrimental effects of trade. For BirdLife Partners in a number of Asian, African and South American countries, bird trade remains particularly high on their agendas, given the traffic in birds caught in the wild and traded for the domestic and international markets. In 2006, BirdLife Partners in the European Union adopted a position which involves urging importing countries to only allow international trade if it can be shown to contribute conservation benefits to the species concerned.