BLOG | Researching CITES: Implementation & Compliance in Practice

Tanya Wyatt gives insight into her new AHRC research project, which seeks to address the lack of empirical investigation of CITES implementation and compliance.

Tanya Wyatt is an Associate Professor in Criminology the Northumbria University. Her research interests include green criminology and the illegal wildlife trade, specifically the intersection of green crimes and human and national security, transnational and organised crime. She was recently awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship for a two-year project  ‘Lessons learned on the implementation of and compliance with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)’, which starts in May 2018. Here, Tanya gives us insight into her new project and the issues and challenges it seeks to address.


According to E.O. Wilson (2016), the rate of human-induced species extinction is 100 to 1000 times higher than non-human caused extinctions. While the main cause of species extinction is habitat loss, the second cause is overexploitation, poaching and the international illegal wildlife trade (CITES 2016a; WWF 2017). The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which came into force in 1975, is one of the main international mechanisms to combat the latter. Even though CITES has been adopted by 182 countries, implementation of CITES legislation remains inconsistent, compliance at times lacking, and listed species still face extinction (CITES 2016b; Reeve 2006; Wyatt 2013).

Without national legislation implementing CITES, the regulation of international wildlife trade would be impossible. As Oldfield (2003) has noted, lack of enforcement is often blamed when wildlife populations decline. Yet the fault may be with the design and implementation of the regulation (Oldfield 2003), but there has been very little exploration of national implementation (Wandesforde-Smith 2016) or of projects and approaches that might improve CITES (Bowman 2013). Additionally, there are a range of, often poorly understood, factors which are likely to influence the apparent effectiveness of CITES, such as the soft law mechanisms integral to implementation and compliance (i.e. international action plans, reviews of significant trade, non-detriment findings and so forth) (Aguilar 2013; Munoz 2016). Another of the factors may be the communication and cooperation between national CITES management and scientific authorities, which will impact upon effective implementation even when the legislation strictly adheres to the criteria.

My Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Leadership Fellowship, starting 1 May 2018 for two years, seeks to address the lack of empirical investigation of CITES implementation and compliance. It may be that the regulation regimes in countries with species decline and lack of compliance can benefit from improved regulation in the form of legislation, implementation, and compliance mechanisms rather than or in addition to improved enforcement. In order to contribute new data to this discussion, I will analyse academic and grey literature, the Legal Atlas legislation database of wildlife trade law, and compliance data from CITES to understand what is known about the nature and extent of implementation of and compliance with CITES legislation in all 182 member countries. Based upon this analysis, in 2019, I will conduct a Delphi iterative survey followed by semi-structured interviews in relation to CITES legislation, implementation, and compliance with experts and CITES members to generate three case studies of lessons learned. The data are intended to provide evidence to member countries as to how their own practice can be improved and to inform other multi-lateral environmental agreements of approaches to implementation and compliance. To potentially inform improvements to CITES legislation, implementation, and compliance, I will share the three case studies with CITES members and hope to present my findings at a meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, which oversees compliance. Additionally, CITES staff and staff of other global environmental conventions and international NGOs will be invited to a final dissemination conference in May 2020 in an aim to exchange knowledge between the wider environmental governance community on how we can better protect other species and the planet.



Aguilar, S. 2013. ‘Regulatory Tools for the Management of Fish and Timber Species through CITES’. Review of European Community & International Environmental Law. 22(3): 281-90.

Bowman, M. 2013. ‘A Tale of Two CITES: Divergent Perspectives upon the Effectiveness of the Wildlife Trade Convention’. Review of European Community & International Environmental Law. 22(3): 228-38.

Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 2016a. The CITES Species. Available at: Accessed 26/07/16.

—– 2016b. National Laws for Implementation of the Convention. Available at: Accessed 26/07/16.

Munoz, M.A.C. (2016) The role of CITES in ensuring sustainable and legal trade in wild fauna and flora. In Elliott, L. and Schaedla, W. Handbook of Transnational Environmental Crime. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Edgar: 433-42.

Oldfield, S. 2003. ‘Introduction’. In Oldfield, S. (ed). Trade in Wildlife: regulation for Conservation. London: Earthscan: xvii – xxvii.

Reeve, R. 2006. Wildlife trade, sanctions and lessons from the CITES regime. International Affairs. 82: 881-97.

Wandesforde-Smith, G. 2016. ‘Looking for Law in All the Wrong Places? Dying Elephants, Evolving Treaties & Empty Threats’. Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy. 19:4:365-381.

Wilson, E.O. 2016. Half Earth: our planet’s fight for life. New York: Liveright Publishing.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 2017. ‘Unsustainable and Illegal Wildlife Trade’. Available at: Accessed 01/02/17.

Wyatt, T. 2013. Wildlife Trafficking: a deconstruction of the crime, the victims and the offenders. London: Palgrave Macmillan.