The Enduring Impact of CITES

By: Megan Hall

In August of 2017, Lebanon passed and signed into law its first animal welfare bill.[1] The bill includes requirements for keeping domestic pets, regulations for zoos and pet shops, and, most importantly, consequences for violations.[2]

Lebanon is a tiny country in the Middle East, bordering Israel and Syria.[3] It is only about 4,015 square miles, about one-third the size of Maryland.[4] It has a population of about 6.2 million people, mostly living on the Mediterranean coast.[5] It is the party to numerous Conventions, including the Universal Convention on the Law of the Sea for maritime behavior and the Kyoto Protocol for climate change.[6]

This animal welfare bill brings Lebanon into compliance with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species,[7] known as CITES.[8] Countries can become party to CITES by making a formal declaration, which Lebanon did on February 25, 2013.[9] Most countries in the world are a party to CITES, excluding countries such as North Korea and Haiti.[10] CITES requires countries who are parties to the Convention to regulate both import and export of regulated species. Countries are required to produce reports detailing their legislation and enforcement actions. The United States report lists the seizure of hippopotamus knifes, ivory, live corals, primate skulls, frozen Amazonian cod, and tegu lizard leather.[11]

CITES regulates the traffic of certain listed species, regulating and restricting the import and export of the animals.[12] It lists certain species in three Appendices, organized by level of protection needed.[13] The first Appendix lists the species threatened with extinction, whose trade is prohibited except in extraordinary circumstances.[14] The second Appendix lists the species who are not threatened with extinction but need to be regulation to prevent use incompatible with survival.[15] The third Appendix lists any species that are protected in one country that has asked CITES to assist in controlling the trade.[16] The import or export of any species listed must be done only when a license has been issued by the Managing Authority in the country.[17] For live specimens listed in the first appendix, the Managing Authority must be satisfied that the use is non-commercial and that the recipient is suitably equipped to house and care for the specimen.[18]

CITES also regulates the transport of the animals that are allowed to be traded.[19] The guidelines include provisions to prevent the transport of injured or sedated animals.[20] When animals are shipped, information about the animals should be included and considerations for weather conditions should be made.[21] Animal specific guidelines have been created, including requirements for cooling substrate for penguins or lack of straw when transporting kangaroos.[22]

However, CITES has some deserved criticism. Its main objective is to regulate trade, not work as a complete ban.[23] It does nothing to regulate species loss due to habitat destruction.[24] It also can result in a dual stream trade with one legal market regulated by trade permits and one illegal market.[25] As numbers of elephants and rhinoceroses have declined, there is an argument it has simply failed to work.[26]

Additionally, CITES is only a piece of the international framework of laws to protect animals. It suffers from the same issue all similar conventions do: it will only go as far as the local government is willing to enforce it. One of the problems faced by the pangolin is the lack of enforcement by the government against selling pangolins as food.[27] In the past, the Vietnam government would sell most of the pangolins it seized from an illegal dealer.[28] CITES is not a law itself but is instead a suggested framework to guide party countries along protection. This is why the passage of the Lebanese animal cruelty law is crucial: it contains protections and consequences for violations.

The Lebanese law will help end the illegal trafficking in wild animals prevalent in Lebanon, particularly lions and tigers who are often kept as status symbols by the wealthy.[29] This is a popular end for many wild animals, particularly primates and big cats.[30] Illegal pet trade has driven many species to the brink of extinction, including the Slow Loris[31] and the Pangolin.[32] Illegal animal trade is also driven by a desire to eat the animal or for its use in traditional medicine, particularly in Asian markets.[33]

Because of the demand for wild animals, CITES is an incredibly important piece of law. Illegal trade in animals and carcasses is a continuous threat to many species. Animals already face habitat destruction and other environmental factors caused by humans; we should not be adding illegal poaching to the list. Regulating the trade in species can help minimize the black market in animal parts because it forces it into the underground. Further, every country that becomes a party to CITES and passes legislation protecting animals brings the world one step closer to a working global protection plan for animals. Even though CITES is not a perfect piece of legislation, it still brings some protections to animals. In this arena, even baby steps should be celebrated. 

Additionally, although the Lebanese law does bring Lebanon into compliance with CITES, it also provides protections for domestic animals kept as pets.[34] Animal cruelty laws in the United States protect animals from cruelty, work to prevent dog fighting and puppy mills, and protect animals from neglect through hoarding.[35] Still, animal cruelty laws can always be improved, offering more protection for a greater number of injuries or stiffer penalties for perpetrators.

CITES should be adopted by every country in the world and then enforced by the adoption of animal rights laws. One duty of humans is to preserve and protect the animals on this planet, including protecting them from illegal and illicit trade. Wild animals should not be kept as status symbols, nor should pets be unprotected from cruelty. However, it should be considered whether it is time to adopt another global convention for the protection of animals, further minimizing trade in endangered species and preventing more animal cruelty.


[1] “Lebanon gets first animal protection law,” (Aug. 29, 2017), (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).

[2] Id.

[3] Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook: Lebanon,, (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087,

[8] Federica Marsi, Aoun signs Lebanon’s first animal welfare law, The Daily Star (Aug. 30, 2017) (

[9] “List of Contracting Parties,”, (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).

[10] Id.

[11] Division of Management Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. CITES Implementation Report 36-38 Sept. 23, 2015.

[12] “How CITES works,”, (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] “Guidelines for Transport,”, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018).

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Annecoos Wiersema, Incomplete Bans and Uncertain Markets in Wildlife Trade, 12 U. Penn. Asian L. Rev. 65, 67 (2016).

[24] Id. at 68.

[25] Id. at 72.

[26] Liz Rasheed, Is CITES Endangered?, 11/23/2015 Geo. Envtl. L. Rev. Online 1 (2015).

[27] John D. Sutter, The Most Trafficked Mammal You’ve Never Heard Of, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018).

[28] Id.

[29] “Lebanon,” supra note 1.

[30] See Siofra Brennan, The Wildest Accessory Yet: How the Super-rich are Flaunting Their Exotic “Pets” Online Including Cheetahs Riding in Super Cars and a Lion Cub in a Louis Vuitton Cat Carrier,, June 16, 2016, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018). The wild animals, including lions, tigers, and cheetahs, are displayed by the wealthy as status symbols, even on Instagram. Id.

[31] Jani Actman, Are Humans Pushing the Slow Loris to Extinction?,, Oct. 2017, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018).

[32] Sutter, supra note #.

[33] Id.

[34] Marsi, supra note 7.

[35] “Cruelty Issues,”, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018).