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A Talk on the Wild Side.

U.S. Supports Protections for Pangolins, African Grey Parrots, Chambered Nautilus at CITES Meeting

This fall, delegates from around the globe will meet for the world’s leading forum to debate and discuss issues related to international wildlife trade. The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will run from September 24th to October 5th in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nearly two years ago, the United States began its public process to gather and evaluate information related to species involved in international trade. Two years of hard work culminated yesterday in the submission of 11 documents and the co-sponsorship of several others to be considered by CITES member countries at the meeting.  In the coming months, we will continue to engage the public as we evaluate documents submitted by other countries and develop negotiating positions on the full agenda of CoP17. 

Not sure what CITES is or how it works? Visit our website for a quick overview. You can also view each of the U.S. documents on our website, but here are some highlights: 

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are covered with overlapping scales made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Photo by Tikki Hywood Trust

Pangolins hold the unfortunate title of most heavily trafficked mammal in the world, with more than 1 million poached from the wild in the last decade alone. The silver, or shall we say scaly, lining is that countries where pangolins can be found are leading the charge to protect their native species. Thanks to the combined efforts of Vietnam, India and the Philippines, all four Asian pangolin species will be considered for transfer to Appendix I, which provides the greatest level of CITES protection. Similarly, Nigeria and Senegal, along with other African countries, have proposed transfer of all four African pangolin species to Appendix I. If adopted, these proposals would halt commercial trade in these species.  The United States has co-sponsored all of these proposals and will work hand-in-hand with these countries to gain support for these uplistings, a critical step in stopping the illegal trade in pangolins. 

The African grey parrot – a highly intelligent bird that is popular as a pet – has experienced significant population declines in the wild. In Ghana, where African grey parrots were once common and widespread, populations have declined between 90 and 99% since the early 1990s. Over the past 25 years, exports of more than 1.5 million wild birds from 18 range states (a range state is where a species is normally found in the wild) have been reported, making African grey parrots one of the most traded of all CITES-listed parrots. Gabon, a range country, has submitted a proposal to transfer the African grey parrot to Appendix, I which will stop the unsustainable commercial trade in wild birds.  The United States is proud to offer our support and co-sponsorship to achieve this goal. 

 Wild African grey parrots take flight in Lobeke National Park, Cameroon. Photo by Dirck Byler/USFWS
Wild African grey parrots take flight in Lobeke National Park, Cameroon. Photo by Dirck Byler/USFWS

At the last meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, the United States achieved increased CITES protections for three native turtle species and 44 species of Asian freshwater turtles, by working in collaboration with China and Vietnam. Following on these successes, the United States  will co-sponsor, along with several African range states, a proposal submitted by Togo to include six species of African and Middle Eastern softshell turtles in Appendix II, which ensures legal and sustainable trade in these species. These species are traded mainly for consumption in East Asia. Evidence shows that when protections for freshwater turtles are strengthened in one region, demand in other regions for unprotected species may increase. The United States  supports a strategic, global approach to freshwater turtle conservation, to stay ahead of this trend and curb this boom-and-bust cycle. 

Chameleons, in demand for the pet trade, are also susceptible to a boom-and-bust pattern and the United States has put forward a proposal to include 21 species of African pygmy chameleons in Appendix II. If successful, this proposal will bring all chameleons under CITES protection. 

The chambered nautilus, with its beautifully intricate shell and exquisite coloring is traded in large quantities, mostly as jewelry and shell products. The United States has long been concerned about the impact that this trade may have on the seven species in the nautilus family , as have some ambitious young conservationists (learn more here and here). Nautiluses are slow to reproduce, leaving them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The United States, Fiji, India and Palau have put forward a proposal to include the nautilus family in Appendix II to ensure its survival in the wild. 


The chambered nautilus is a slow-growing, long-lived animal that can take up to 15 years before being able to reproduce. Photo from the Flickr stream of Klaus Steifel shared under Creative Commons licensing.

Another marine species – the devil ray – is in demand for its gill plates, which are thought to have medicinal properties. The United States  has co-sponsored a proposal submitted by Fiji to include devil rays in Appendix II.

So far, we’ve only touched on the animal proposals, yet we can’t overlook the importance of CITES protections for plant species. In fact, of the more than 35,000 species protected under CITES, nearly 30,000 are plants! The United States has put forward a proposal to transfer three species of fishhook cacti, collected for the horticulture trade, from Appendix II to Appendix I. Documents on agarwood and holy wood were also put forward by the United States for consideration. 

In addition to our animal and plant proposals, the United States, along with South Africa, has put forward a document to encourage youth participation in CITES. Youth engagement is a powerful tool to generate new and innovative ideas while educating and connecting the next generation of conservation leaders. As a partner on the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife, the United States  is committed to engaging youth in CITES and wildlife trade issues. 

Aligning with the President’s Executive Order, the United States has submitted a document on global efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, including a recommendation that CITES member countries close their domestic ivory markets. The United States and China have agreed to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory and it’s now time for the rest of the international community to join that effort. In a similar vein, the United States submitted a document focused on reducing demand for illegal wildlife products with a draft resolution that, if adopted, would urge countries to implement campaigns that would raise consumer awareness of the impact of illegal wildlife trade on wild populations and influence purchasing decisions.

Perhaps of equal interest to those documents we submitted are those we did not. The United States did not submit a document on musical instruments, as we consulted with the European Union and its Member States on their submission. We will work with countries at CoP17 to ensure that permitting for musical instruments is streamlined and widely used. Regarding polar bears, though we remain concerned about the commercial use of polar bear hides as an additional threat to the species, we are not pursuing increased CITES protections at this time. We are putting our resources into working in collaboration with other polar bear range states to address climate change and mitigate its impacts on the polar bear as the overwhelming threat to the long-term future of the species.

Be sure to check back for other CITES news.

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