My First CITES CoP Experience: The Realities of Decision Making

My First CITES CoP Experience: The Realities of Decision Making
September 4, 2019 9:27 am Blog

The 18th Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has just ended in Geneva Switzerland at the Palexpo international conference centre. The events took place from August 17th to the 28th and it was an incredible experience.

CITES is a global agreement that protects over 35,000 endangered plant and animal species against illegal international trade. Parties to the convention meet every 3 years to review their actions and plans as well as receive and vote on proposals for listing or un-listing various species. As a graduate who recently completed a comprehensive program on the management of species under the CITES Masters course in the University of Andalucia, Spain, I was curious to experience how countries and all stakeholders interacted to make decisions regarding the trade in endangered species.

A group of people in a room.
The side event on Project SEAHORSE.


On day one, I attended the side event on PROJECT SEAHORSE supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) and the Species Survival Commission (SSN). It was interesting to learn that seahorses were the first marine fishes listed on CITES appendix II in 2002. Their goal was to promote sustainable, legal, and regulated trade in seahorses. They pitched their support for capacity building and effective monitoring systems. They also gave an overview of how to conduct Non-Detrimental Findings (NDF) for seahorses and were ready to help countries conduct this NDF. This aspect certainly won my interest since my country had issues with the monitoring of trade in seahorses. There is a toolkit full of resources and information that can help CITES parties implement the Appendix II listing of seahorses to ensure the wild seahorse populations does not decline further. You can view it at

The intensity of the numerous side events and the committee meetings with various interest groups and countries were very compelling. Parties and their allies were seen using various lobbying tactics to gain support for their proposals or programs. Lobbying was not only based on scientific facts. It also involved strategic partnerships and representation by proposing Parties, all of which I learnt about during the Master’s program. The presentation of data and telling of compelling stories on the status of species management were highly critical in influencing support in all events. I observed that pre-CoP consultations with other Parties, especially range states, were key to mobilising support for species protection in Appendix I & II.  An example is when Costa Rica’s proposal for the up-listing of Glass frogs (Hyalinobatrachium spp., Centrolene spp., Cochranella spp., and Sachatamia spp.,) to Appendix II was not supported by Guyana and some member states of EU. Not involving range states and other strategic Parties like EU in proper consultation or collaboration on NDFs proved to be the final nail in the coffin for this proposal from Costa Rica. Guyana raised the issue of  Costa Rica not consulting them as a major range State, and the EU was not convinced that Costa Rica had enough scientific evidence to back its proposal. This was a clear lesson for sub-regional coordination and information sharing among stakeholder blocks for the need to improve the quality of data and to build support for species protection.

During the 13th edition of a Masters course in CITES, we did hold mock CoP events and sessions to simulate how decisions are taken. The Master’s program introduced us to the CoP activities, but the intensity and complexity of the actual conference was an amazing experience. Proposals by parties who were not well-organized in activities leading to the CoP got penalized for that. I was not aware of this prior to the conference. The Master’s program focused more on biodiversity, curbing species trade, mechanisms for tracking down illegal wildlife trade, NDFs as the core for CITES monitoring and evaluation, and other topics in that direction.

Some Master’s program graduates from West Africa attended the CITES CoP18 to showcase their research work and to engage in the committee sessions and side events. Four of them had been promoted to CITES Management Authority (MA) focal points for their respective countries after graduating. They were very outspoken in the documents review and proposal sessions and also involved in lobbying Parties at side events that led to the eventual support for the Giraffe and Vulture species proposals to list them in Appendix II. West Africa’s contributions at the COP 18 were widely praised as one of the best in recent CoPs—something that made me proud as a conservationist and a West African.

A woman standing next to country flags.
It is my hope to represent my country at the CITES CoP someday.

By Yatta H. Kamara

Wetlands and Marine Ecosystem Manager

National Protected Area Authority (NPAA)

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