South Africa as a party to the Convection on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)



The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

A hundred and sixty-nine countries have signed up to the convention. The Netherlands ratified CITES in 1985, and the agreements it made are established in the Flora and Fauna Act.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of The World Conservation Union (IUCN). The text of the convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington DC., United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and it entered into force on 1 July 1975. Because wild animals and plants are traded internationally, the effort to regulate that trade requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. The ultimate aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants species does not threaten their survival.

Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.

CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. All imports, exports, re-exports and introductions from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a permitting system. A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate documentation has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit. There is some variation of the requirements from one country to another and it is always necessary to check on the national laws that may be stricter.

The Convention accords varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. The species are listed in three appendices, according to the degree of protection they need.

South Africa and CITIES

South Africa can claim with justification to be a world leader in the field of wildlife conservation. The country’s commitment to international conservation efforts is illustrated by its active participation in various multilateral environmental agreements (MEA’s) such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Migratory Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The enormous natural potential South Africa has and the leading role it plays in wildlife conservation are not only of importance to the country itself, but also to neighboring countries and to the sub-continent in general.

South Africa has been involved in CITES from the early stages of its inception. A South African delegation participated in the 1973 Washington Conference and South Africa submitted its instrument of ratification on 15 July 1975 to the Swiss government. When the convention came into force for South Africa on 13 October 1975, the country became one of the first 15 contracting parties.

Responsibility and Coordination

The Department of Environmental Affairs is the central coordinating and policy making authority in respect of environmental conservation in South Africa. In its capacity the department has been designated a CITES management authority with the responsibility of coordinating the implementation of the convention internally and to act as channel of communication between the CITES Secretariat and other parties on the one hand, and the provincial management authorities and other bodies involved on the other.

In terms of the South African Constitution the responsibility for the protection of fauna and flora, and consequently the control of the import and export of fauna and flora species, is vested in the provincial conservation departments. Provincial nature conservation authorities have therefore also been designated as CITES management authorities.

South Africa is well known for its diversity of plant and animal communities that reflects the wide range of environmental conditions in the country. The South African authorities are dealing with these environmental attributes in a responsible way. Through the years, a unique system of protected areas managed by official conservation authorities, comprising roughly 5,5% of the country’s surface area, has been established. It is supplemented by an enormous contribution by the private sector.

This includes more than 9 000 privately owned game farms, almost 1 000 private nature reserves, conservancies covering several million hectares, six World Heritage Sites and four biosphere reserves. In certain cases the vigilant efforts of the various nature conservation authorities contributed towards the most spectacular recovery of certain species from the brink of extinction. The following can be cited as examples of this achievement:

  • White rhinoceros

South Africa presently hosts the most stable population of southern white rhinoceros in Africa. The only southern white rhino left in Africa in 1900, were small relic populations in KwaZulu-Natal and on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border. The latter population died out, leaving approximately ten survivors, which were afforded protection in the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. Under protection of Ezemvelo/Kwazulu-Natal Wildlife, numbers increased to about 20 by 1920, 200 by 1933. In 1960 numbers increased to approximately 1000 animals and translocation to other areas within South Africa began.

The first four white rhinos were reintroduced into the Kruger National Park in 1960. In the ensuing 12-year period, 345 white rhinos were relocated from the Umfolozi Game Reserve to the Kruger National Park. Of these nine died in transit. Since their reintroduction white rhinos have increased steadily to a total of approximately 3 500 in 2002.

Presently the South African population stands at more the 10 000, distributed among state-controlled conservation areas and private land. Significant numbers have also been relocated to zoological gardens and safari parks throughout the world (including neighboring countries in the Southern African region).

New CITES listing – Abalone

  • Why list abalone in CITES

The species proposed for listing in CITES Appendix III is Haliotis midae, an Abalone species endemic to South Africa, also known as perlemoen. Although South African Abalone fishery has supported a commercial and recreational fishery since the early 1950s, the resource began to be over-exploited during the late 1960s as a result of its demand as a delicacy. It is also sold as an aphrodisiac and its shells are sought after as ashtrays, soap holders and food platters. Poaching of abalone in the past four years escalated to previously unknown levels and records of confiscations of illegal abalone have shown a more than three-fold increase over the last three to five years.

National measures to curb illegal abalone harvesting had limited success and additional measures are required to protect the resource from over-exploitation. These measures is directed at curtailing illegal international trade and to achieve this, the listing of the species in CITES Appendix III is proposed. This will assist in providing the abalone resources with a chance to recover and to sustain commercial harvest in the future.

  • Why list Abalone in Appendix 111

CITES makes provision for a party to list a species on appendix III of CITES if international assistance is required to control illegal trade in the species, which has to be subject to regulation in the specific country. The listing of abalone on Appendix III of CITES would greatly enhance South Africa’s efforts to stop abalone poaching in that importing countries will know that if a consignment of abalone is not accompanied by a CITES export permit, it is illegal and the necessary action, e.g. confiscation, will be taken.

  • Implications of listing Abalone in Appendix 111
    • Permit requirements
      • A CITES export permit must be obtained before the export of a consignment of abalone. This will be in addition to the current permit required in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act.
      • A CITES export permit is required for every consignment of abalone leaving the country and the permit must accompany the consignment.
      • A CITES export permit will only be issued if the specimens (abalone) have been legally obtained (mariculture & allocated off-take quotas).
      • Exporter will have to verify whether an import permit will be required in the country of import.
      • CITES permits will be issued by Marine and Coastal Management.
      • Proposed permit fees as reflected in the draft regulations relating to threatened or protected species in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, are:
        • CITES permits:            R200.00
        • Gathering / collecting:        R50.00
        • Growing / breeding / propagating:    R300.00 per registration
      • The import of abalone into a country Party to CITES will be regulated in terms of the requirements of the Convention and the legislation of the importing country.

This means that an importing country will not allow the import of abalone without a CITES export permit issued by MCM. If a consignment of abalone without a CITES export permit is detected, the consignment will be confiscated and the associated law enforcement actions will follow.

  • African elephant

As a result of human settlement and the ivory trade, the distribution of elephants in South Africa was limited to four remnant populations by 1910. The surviving populations at that stage covered no more than 100 000ha. Effective conservation and wildlife management practices, largely initiated by the South African National Parks, had a dramatic effect on both the population of the elephants and their distribution. Today South Africa has a total elephant population of about 18 000 distributed over a range of approximately 2,6 million ha in both state-controlled and privately owned protected areas.

  • Whales

South Africa suspended its whaling activities during 1975. However, stringent legislation for the protection of whales within its territorial waters had already been in place before that date and additional legislative measures have been passed since. Owing to strict international protection and to local measures a marked increase in the numbers of southern right whales and hump back whales has been witnessed in South Africa ‘s territorial waters. Whale watching plays a major role in ecotourism activities on the southern Cape coast

  • Cycads

The genus Encephalartos is endemic in Africa . It has more than 45 species widely distributed over the continent. To date 37 species have been recorded in South Africa . During the last few decades the interest in these plants has led to the exploitation of wild populations for personal and financial gain. Today all cycads have been afforded special protection status. If the causative factors in the depletion of certain populations continue unchecked, three species will most probably become extinct in unprotected areas within the next few years.

Authorities have taken appropriated steps to ensure the survival of cycad species. Legislation was promulgated and is continually updated to regulate the trade and collection of these plants.

Special in situ measures were implemented to provide protection to certain populations of the more threatened species. A process is currently under way to identify more species that are threatened, and to proclaim more nature reserves specifically for the conservation of these primitive plants.

Private and state nurseries have embarked on extensive ex situ cultivation programmes in an endeavor to alleviate the pressure on wild populations by making cultivated plants available to the collector and the horticulturist. Furthermore, cultivated plants were used in relocation programmes to strengthen depleted numbers of certain species in the wild, such as E. inopinus , E. dyerianus and E. cupidus . To date more than 200 000 seedling of various species have been cultivated and sold to the public. Research on the distribution and conservation status of these plants has been initiated and conservation strategies have been formulated and implemented. These strategies are reviewed, amended and updated annually, if necessary.

The above-mentioned are but a few of the many significant success stories that South Africa is justly proud of.

Measures to combat smuggling

South Africa has a well-developed infrastructure of roads, railways and air traffic and serves as gateway to Southern Africa. The bulk of exports from South Africa’s neighboring countries and from other states further north is routed through this country.

Consequently a large volume of goods in sealed containers passes through South African border posts daily. Since many consignments are in transit shipments of (approximately 200 truckloads per day) it is virtually impossible to carry out systematic inspections. That consignments of illegal wildlife products may be smuggled through South Africa is therefore, unfortunately, a reality. Furthermore, South Africa has a variety of attractive plant and animal species that are popular among collectors. Owing to the high prices they obtain, they are therefore alluring targets for illegal exploitation. South Africa is attempting to curb this illegal trade by implementing the following measures:

  • Legislation:

Comprehensive legislation for controlling the exploitation of and trade in endangered species has been enacted by all authorities concerned. High penalties *up to R100 000 or approximately US$33 000) and long periods of imprisonment (up to ten years) are applicable. The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) was promulgated in 2004. NEMBA regulates all CITES listed species and Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) operating on a national basis ensures compliance with NEMBA.

  • Law enforcement:

The nature conservation authorities in South Africa have a large contingent of law enforcement officers, special units for threatened species and Environmental Management Inspectors at their disposal. They work in close collaboration with the South African Police Service (SAPS). The SAPS is a very active role-player in the control of illegal imports and exports of wildlife products.

In addition, the South African customs authorities (Department of Finance) and the Department of Agriculture assist in the battle against the illegal movement of wildlife and its products across South Africa’s borders. At every border post officials of these departments are on the look-out for illegal consignments. In view of the volume of containerized merchandise moving across South Africa’s borders daily, their task is a mammoth one.

Economic utilisation

Apart from South Africa’s successful protection efforts to safe-guard a variety of species, the 1980s was characterized by a marked increase in the economic utilization of various species. A positive consequence of such use of wildlife is that species involved invariably become strongly established over the years.

Examples are the sale and re-establishment of elephant, rhino and crocodile, the stringently controlled trophy hunting industry and the propagation of cycads. In addition there is the almost century-old ostrich industry in South Africa.

Ostrich-farming is a common practice in certain parts of the Karoo (Western Cape Province) and the ostrich leather, meat and feather industry is well established in this area. Consequently, the future of the ostrich is secure.