New Protections for Key Species

The triennial World Wildlife Conference, known formally as CoP18 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meets every three years. This year’s gathering in Geneva established new protections for several key species in crisis, and upheld protections on others.  

CITES is the only international convention dedicated to regulating international wildlife trade. The goal is to ensure that at-risk species are not threatened by that trade. This year, the participating parties worked to fill some of the gaps being created by the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to take action on global extinction and the U.S. President’s recent move to gut the U.S.’s Endangered Species Act.

CITES adopted a wide range of decisions advancing the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife across the globe at the meeting, including agreeing to strict trade limits on live giraffes and giraffe parts. That trade, which includes skins, carvings made of giraffe bones and live animals, has contributed to a staggering 40 percent decline in the giraffe population in the wild over the past 30 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Trump Administration has refused to consider a petition to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act. That refusal resulted in a lawsuit filed by the CBD in September of 2018. Seven out of nine giraffe subspecies have been classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, the US did support the proposed restrictions on the giraffe trade  that were adopted by CITES.

“We hope the U.S. – which strongly supported this proposal – will echo this important decision by listing giraffes under our own Endangered Species Act as soon as possible,”  stated Elly Pepper, Deputy Director of International Wildlife Conservation at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“With a million species threatened with extinction, many within decades, we must act now to get ahead of destructive trade in giraffes and other species.”

An effort to reopen trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn was rejected at the conference. Both species retained their protections.

“This meeting was a crucial step toward halting the stunning decline of Africa’s most famous species — giraffes, elephants and rhinos,” said Tanya Sanerib, U.S.-based international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re thrilled that CITES countries threw giraffes a much-needed lifeline and held firm against the ivory and rhino horn trade.”

The participating nations also agreed to protections for sea cucumbers, Mako sharks, guitarfish and 10 other ray species.

It’s taken the international community 17 years of discussions to adopt protections for the slug-like sea cucumber known as a “teatfish.” This species is in high demand as a luxury food item in Asia—it can sell for more than $200 a pound, but the population is declining exponentially. 

This slug-like species is is high demand on the black market and not just in Asia. In 2018, a Tucson firm and two executives were sentenced to pay over $1.2 million in fines, forfeiture and restitution for the illegal trafficking in sea cucumber from 2010-2012. The defendants were caught smuggling sea cucumbers caught off the coast of Mexico into the U.S. to supply a thriving black market.

“Decline of their population leads fishermen to dive always farther to catch them and mortal accidents become more and more frequent,” CITES documents state. Member states of CITES will now contribute to protect these species essential for sea grass beds, lagoons and coral reeves [sic].”

The proposal made by the European Union, the United States, Senegal, Kenya and the Seychelles, and supported by Chile and Australia. China was the lead opponent.

Like giraffes and the humble teatfish, shark and ray populations are plummeting. As much as a third of all   species hunted to supply the international fin trade are threatened with extinction. A total of 18 species were added to CITES Appendices as endangered or threatened. Species already listed include the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, seven species of sawfishes, silky shark, hammerhead sharks, three species of thresher shark, and nine species of devil rays.

“This CITES meeting was a breath of fresh air amid an onslaught of bad news for wildlife, from climate change and habitat destruction to trophy hunting,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Watching the world take action to protect so many species, from iconic giraffes to lowly sea cucumbers, from the threat of trade gives me a rare glimmer of hope for our natural world.”


For more information on CITES, visit


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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