The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: What is CITES?

Nepenthes rajah
Baby Nepenthes rajah

A: "CITES" stands for the "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora." This international convention concerns itself with the trade in plants and animals (and their derivatives) across international borders. Because some species of animals and plants (including carnivorous plants) are increasingly rare, field collection by commercial interests and hobbyists is a very real threat to the continued existence of these species in the wild. To try to monitor and regulate the trade in these species, the Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES, usually pronounced sigh-tease) was created.

If you are trading plants internationally, you may need CITES permits.

Unfortunately, the collecting and trading goals of many enthusiasts conflict with the trade regulations imposed by CITES. As you might expect, there is a great deal of resentment by some carnivorous plant growers towards CITES---not so much against its mission, but rather against how it is implemented. Occasionally online carnivorous plant discussion groups reverberate with angry stories of shipments unnecessarily delayed or stopped, or less-than-competent inspectors. I have not dealt first hand in plant trade requiring CITES involvement, so haven't experienced such problems myself, nor can I determine if the fault in these conflicts rests with CITES enforcement or the carnivorous plant traders.

There is no question that CITES has helped raise the profile of unsustainable trade and collection, and this has led to legislation and projects that ensure their sustainable use. But what about the charges that CITES may block genuine conservation efforts? It seems to me that CITES only demands that those engaged in international trade have the appropriate permits. There are only five carnivorous plant species which are listed on Appendix I (more about that on the next FAQ page), but even these plants can be traded in compliance with CITES as long as they are artificially propagated and are not derived from wild collected stock.

Any conservation efforts, including CITES, raises complicated questions. My own bias is certainly pro-CITES, but I recognize that it is very difficult to understand the rules and regulations for CITES, which makes it difficult to comply with.

I encourage those expert horticulturists who see problems with CITES, to contact the IUCN directly and use their knowledge and expertise to ensure the species lists in the CITES Appendices make sense, and that the CITES authorities in their countries know the conservation status of the species in trade. Orchid growers have worked long and hard with CITES, and for example have gotten some orchid hybrids removed from the Appendices.

If you're not happy with CITES, stop whining and contribute to improving it!

Page citations:; Simpson, R.B. 1994; personal observation.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018