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All About CITES

The purpose of the AFA CITES Committee is to monitor or participate in the CITES meetings, CITES animal’s committee meetings, and/or to assist the USFWS when information about the trade in parrots or their keeping and breeding is needed. Since CITES is set up in tiers, much of our “ground-level” experience is first offered at the CITES animal's committee level. It is surprising how often aviculture’s opinions on Psittacine issues is agreeable to that of the USFWS, and frequently their proposals parallel our concerns on the same subjects. In the past, the USFWS has granted the AFA official NGO (Non-governmental observer) status so we can attend animal’s committee meetings and provide input. As well, the chairman of the animal's committee has frequently extended an official invitation for the AFA committee chair to attend the meetings. This IS “our” voice to those that govern the trade in birds and animals on an international basis.


What Exactly is CITES?

1. The term "CITES" stands for "Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species".

 2. CITES is an international "treaty" that went into force in July of 1975.  The aim is to ensure that international trade in certain species of plants and animals did not threaten their existence in their native habitats.  Today more than 30,000 species are afforded various protections under the treaty, ranging from live specimens of Panda bears to fur coats or alligator wallets.  In the case of aviculture specifically, the treaty governs the trade in live birds that are traded from one country to another, regardless of their origin of captive-produced or wild-taken.  The signatories (attending member countries) of the treaty have vowed to honor the "regulations", called “resolutions”, put forth under the CITES Convention.

 3. Today over 150 countries (Parties) worldwide have signed onto and vowed to honor the Treaty. Each country then assigns its own governmental agency that will monitor the Convention and enact any protections that are "passed" or "agreed" at the Convention of the Parties (COP).  In the United States, the President has assigned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as our representative to CITES. This makes the USFWS responsible for upholding the rules of the treaty and to make sure the United States abides by any "resolution" (Agreed rule) of the Convention. As well, our USFWS is the official U.S. governmental voice to the treaty. There may be other U.S. groups attending or even presenting information or suggestions, such as the AFA, HSUS, WPT, and others, but these organizations are not the official U.S. governmental voice.

 4. As eluded to above, in addition to governmental Parties, others, called "Observers" or "Non-governmental Observers" (NGOs) may attend the Convention or the subcommittee level meetings to present information to the governing Parties. The purpose of these NGOs is to offer scientific data about the species or genera with which they have expertise.  The American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. has acted as an official Non- Governmental Observer to the Convention.  The AFA CITES Committee chairman provides input and makes comment to the USFWS with regard to avian species and the International trade of birds worldwide. If attending a CITES committee level meeting, the AFA representative may be given a chance to stand and present such information directly to the CITES Committee Chairperson as well. This is why we need breeding data and census data of all birds kept in captivity, and any trade data that may be important to present the entire picture of the status of a species.

 5. Keep in mind that CITES is an international treaty, and that their solutions put forth at the Convention go to the many participating countries to, in turn, be incorporated into their national domestic laws. Although CITES cannot and will not get involved with domestic law or trade, its many resolutions must be used by all participating countries when they issue permits or participate in any international movement or trade of listed species. For example, CITES may list the Moluccan Cockatoo as CITES Appendix I, indicating that international trade in this species must be of the utmost importance or else it is not permitted. Yet the U.S. may not use this rule internally, and may not require permits or special findings when the same species is sold or transferred from one State to another. CITES is an international rule making body.

 6. CITES listings, the lists of the actual plants and animals that are afforded certain protections by the Convention, are divided into three "Appendices". These appendices are conveniently numbered as Appendix I, Appendix II, and Appendix III. Those species listed on Appendix I to the Convention are the most critically endangered in their native habitats, where as those listed on Appendix II may require close monitoring or “quota systems” if subjected to international trade to prevent them from becoming endangered. Appendix III is a list where each individual country can place a species if it has concerns about trade within or from its own country. All parrot species except the ring-necked parakeet, cockatiel and budgie are listed on CITES Appendix II as a precaution and due to the possibility that trade may take place unmonitored. In the recent past ring-necked parakeets were listed on Appendix III by Ghana (apparently due to internal trade issues), but have recently been removed and are now Non-CITES. This means that currently any Rose-ringed (ring-necked) parakeet can be imported and exported internationally without CITES permits. As far as CITES is concerned, a certificate of origin is still required from a governing CITES government to demonstrate that the birds originated in the exporting country. Of course there are also national laws that may require permits to import such species. In the U.S. there is also a USDA quarantine requirement for all exotic birds imported into the U.S.

 7. Listing criteria for a species is based on its "range" in the wild, NOT on its populations in captivity around the world. This is often very frustrating for aviculturists as they do not understand why a supposedly "common" bird would require special permits for export from one country to another.  A good example of this would be something like the "Scarlet-chested parakeet" which is listed on CITES Appendix I due to its status in the wild. Yet, here in the United States, and virtually across the world, Scarlet-chested parakeets are very common and breed readily in captivity. So much so it seems that our own USFWS has removed the internal Endangered Species permit requirements for interstate commerce with this species.  Their listing under CITES is to protect any further removal of this species from the wild. It has nothing to do with the successes of aviculture or the current status of this species in our aviaries.

The Difference Between CITES and the US Endangered Species Act

    1. Many aviculturists are confused about our wildlife laws and how they "interact" with each other. One of the most confusing points is that CITES Appendix I listed species are not always "US Endangered Species". This is because the US ESA or United States Endangered Species Act protects or lists species that meet certain criteria, not necessarily the same as the criteria to list them on CITES Appendix I.

    2. Many of the larger macaws are listed on CITES Appendix I, and therefore their International trade (commercial) is prohibited except as captive-bred birds coming from a CITES approved facility. CITES Appendix I includes the Spix's macaw, Lear's, Scarlet, Military, Buffon's, Blue-throated, Hyacinth, Red-fronted, Blue-headed, and Illiger's macaws.

    Yet the U.S. ESA does not include all of these same macaws. To date the ESA lists only the Spix's, Lear's, Blue-throated, Buffon’s, and military macaws. So, for all intents and purposes here in the United States, no federal level permits are required to own, breed, or sell the ESA listed and CITES listed species. But, some States use the ESA federal list as their own internal State list of restricted species, and if you live in such a State, you may be breaking the law simply by owning a species listed on the federal list. Any shipping or international movement requires permits from both the federal and CITES level management authorities. The USFWS is working on incorporating many of the CITES resolutions into our domestic laws for the future and we must keep an eye on the regulations to make sure that these commonly kept and bred species are not restricted internally within the United States and/or on a State by State basis. The American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. monitors the Federal Register for any pending legislation that would affect bird keeping here in the U.S.

    3. Currently the United States Endangered Species Act includes the following parrot species (often found here in aviculture) and any movement across a State line that involves money or commerce would require federal permits. To loan or donate one of these species to another breeder in another State, or within your own State does not require the federal permit, but may require a State permit depending on which State you live or plan to move the bird to. NOTE: All of these species are also listed on either CITES Appendix I or II and would require US Federal and CITES permits to ship in International Commerce.

    (US Avicultural species listed on the US Endangered Species Act) Vinaceous, Red-browed, Puerto Rican, Red-necked, Red-tailed, St. Vincent's, and Cuban amazons. Golden and Blue-throated Conures, Thick-billed parrots, Pileated Parrots (South American), Golden-shouldered parakeets, Red-vented cockatoos, Lesser Sulphur-crested and citron-crested cockatoos, and Military, Buffon’s, and Blue-throated macaws. Recently more species have been added to this Act, some have been exempted from federal interstate commerce permit requirements due to their pet-trade popularity here in the U.S. but may still be illegal in some States. These include the Moluccan cockatoo and the Umbrella cockatoo.

    4. Even though we call many of the parrot species now found on CITES Appendix I, Endangered, for our purposes here in the United States, with the exception of the short list above, they are not regulated unless we plan to ship them across an International border (yes, even Canada or Mexico). The list of CITES Appendix I parrots is extensive and includes many of the birds we breed and sell into our domestic pet trade. For a complete list, you can contact the USFWS in Washington, at 800-358-2104, or visit

Some of CITES Resolutions Pertaining to Parrots

1. Parrots are an important focus under CITES. Literally every meeting of the Parties involves some discussion about parrots and their International trade under the treaty. The many NGO groups provide data pertaining to parrots in the wild, and the current status of their habitats and numbers. Many of the NGO groups that attend would be familiar to bird breeders. Some of them include the North American Falconer's Association, The Humane Society of the United States, PETA, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Counsel, Save the Whales, Animal Welfare Institute, Environmental Investigation Agency, AFA, World Parrot Trust, WWF Traffic, European Falconer's Association, and many, many more. These and other NGO organizations contribute their input to each and every discussion regarding the trade in birds and other animals.

2. CITES also has subcommittees. The one that would include birds is called the "CITES Animal's Committee". These committees are charged with gathering information to be presented at the formal Convention of the Parties. Much of the work that would pertain to the AFA is accomplished at this committee level. Thankfully the committee level is a little more personal than the COP meetings, and it is easier to raise concerns or present information that will then be used to formulate suggestions to the COP Parties.

3. One of the most important resolutions affecting parrot breeders pertains to International Trade in Appendix I species that were bred in captivity.  The CITES Convention provides for trade in Appendix I species to take place as if they were on Appendix II- if they are bona fide captive-bred animals. On the surface it sounds like something very easy to qualify, however, the Parties have had much trouble defining "Bred in Captivity" in such a way that it would not affect "wild" birds and animals covered under Appendix I. Technically, the definition used can not affect any animal that was taken from the wild. Therefore, the definition that has been adopted eliminates all F1 (first generation captive-bred animals from qualifying because their parents were wild-caught). This way, to qualify as an animal "bred in captivity", an animal must be F2 (second generation captive-bred) or higher to be considered for trade as an Appendix II listed species. Furthermore, CITES has devised a "system of facility registration" where governmental organizations can verify that animals are actually being bred to the second generation.  Unfortunately, the rules under these resolutions have been so confusing and so rigid that there are only a handful of registered bird breeding facilities that have even registered for this exemption under CITES. The whole system is in need of review and hopefully will be changed at some point in the future.

4. Another subject of heated debate at these meetings is the term "for commercial purposes".   Under the Convention, a government must ascertain whether a facility breeds its animals for "primarily commercial purposes" or whether they are a "non-commercial" entity.  After many discussions it has been agreed that unless you breed an animal species for a direct release program or approved conservation program, you are considered a commercial breeder and therefore must qualify under the current registration scheme in order to engage in International trade with an Appendix I species...traded as Appendix II. On the surface this angers many breeders as they often consider themselves as a non-commercial breeder. But technically all breeding is commercially driven unless all offspring are donated back into a conservation program that directly benefits the wild population of the same species. This means that if you have only one pair of Appendix I birds, and you breed them and sell your offspring to other breeders or the pet trade, you are a commercial breeder! Even many zoos are considered "commercial facilities" if they do not participate in "Species Survival Plans" that eventually will directly benefit the species in the wild. Under CITES, the trade in CITES Appendix I species for commercial purposes is strictly controlled.

5. Habitat preservation and restoration is not a primary part of CITES and its resolutions at this time. However there have been several important discussions about how the Convention can begin to include such conservation. It will be very interesting to see just how they resolve these issues.