Does CITES Work? Four Case Studies

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CITES is very limited in its potential effectiveness as a conservation tool. Not only does it fail to address issues of habitat loss, but it also fails to create mechanisms to control the supply of wildlife products or any direct means to influence consumer demand. As it is currently structured, CITES operates primarily as a restrictive mechanism, rather than an enabling one. Implicit in its existing structure is an assumption that all trade is somehow bad for conservation unless proven otherwise. Measures taken under CITES therefore tend to emphasize limitations on trade rather than ways to facilitate trade that may ultimately enhance the status of wild species.

In theory, CITES is supposed to supplement, not replace, effective control of the supply of wild species (field proctection). In practice, however, there are many cases where field protection is completely lacking and CITES provides the only readily available mechanism for controlling commercial exploitation.

Can CITES trade measures replace the need for effective field protection? The following four case studies suggest that it cannot. Each of these cases highlights series shortcomings of the existing CITES mechanism. Perhaps we can gain some insights from these case studies, and use them to design more effective wildlife trade regulation policies and mechanisms.

The four case studies are:

Rhinos

Elephants

Tigers

Bears

IEA Environment Briefing Paper No.4

August 1998

Further reading:

Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists by Colin Robinson et al.

Global Greens, Global Governance by James Sheehan and Jeremy Rabkin

Global Warming False Alarms by Russell Lewis

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