CITES is a mature international treaty (a treaty is an agreement between countries) which, as of the Fall of 2002, has over 150 countries as members. [List of Party States] The purpose of the treaty is to control the international movement of wild plants and animals, alive or dead, whole or parts there of ("specimens" of species) in such a manner as to be assured that the pressures of international trade do not contribute to the endangerment of the listed species. Thus, live birds such as the Imperial Eagle, the shells of sea turtles, Elephant ivory and wild orchards are all controlled by this treaty when the items or specimens move from one county to another. International trade, lawful and illegal, in wildlife and plants is at the level of billions of dollars per year. Illegal trade in such items as bear gallbladders, elephant ivory tusk and other products is a significant issue around the world.
CITES has exercised control over the fur of big cats such as leopards, the skins of crocodiles, trade in live birds such as the Hyacinth Macaw, whales and primates.
CITES does not provide protection for the habitat of species or how a species is used within a country, it only controls international movement of the species. If a hunter kills a listed species in Canada and wishes to return to the US then a CITES permit will have to be obtained. Likewise, if a zoo in New York wishes to import an orangutan, a CITES permit will have to be obtained. A permit will not be given if the removal of the animal would be detrimental to the species in the wild, that is, if the removal would impose additional risk on the survival of the species.
If a species is in danger of extinction then the treaty will impose a ban on the commercial trade of the listed species. These species are listed on Appendix I of the treaty (may countries consider this the endangered species list). If a species might have population level concerns then the species is listed on Appendix II, where commercial trade is allowed. Examples of Appendix II species include: North American black bear, the golden eagle, and many orchid species. (Many countries would consider this a list of threatened species.)
Representatives of countries that have signed the treaty meet every two or so years in order to carry out their responsibilities under the treaty. This event is referred to as a Conference of the Parties. In November of 2002 there will be a meeting in Santiago Chile. There have been eleven of these meetings since 1975.[List of meeting -date and places] At these meeting it is decided which animals and plants should be listed on or removed from Appendix I or Appendix II of the treaty.
For a more comprehensive discussion of the nature of the treaty, see: Overview of CITES.