CITES: Good Conservation or Failing All?

By Angus I. Carpenter, BSc. (Hons), MSc.


Carpenter, A.I. (2002). CITES: Good Conservation or Failing All?. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, September 2002. (

CITES: Good Conservation or Failing All?

Introduction to CITES

National wildlife legislation has been in existence for centuries (Lyster, 1985), but international laws and treaties are a more recent development (Roe et al., 2002; Lyster, 1985) falling into either 'Private'1 or 'Public'2 legislation, with the later separating into 'Treaty'/'Convention'3 and 'Customary'4 laws (Lyster, 1985). Ex-colonial countries have often inherited their legislation from their prior colonial powers (Roe et al., 2002; Crowe & Shryer, 1995), which raises concerns over their desire/understanding/agreement to implement legislation (Damania, 2002). An issue highlighted by Kenya's Professor Wangari Maathai when she expressed concern at world leaders', especially those from Africa, failure to implement international treaties and that leaders did not even understand, and even forgot, what they had signed at summits (WSSD, 2002). Damania (2002) stated that international legislation taken up at the national level provided new openings for bureaucrats, endowed with discretionary powers, to exploit their positions for personal gain. Despite the theory of incentive payments, such as those issued by Mr Ravalomanana to his ministers in Madagascar (BBC News, 2002), to curb corruption concomitant rises in bribery prices are often the resultant (Damania, 2002).

Trade in wildlife receives much attention, often as headlines after an expose (Meo, 2001; Murray, 2001; Eveleigh, 2001) but also in articles reviewing trade in more detail (Bolgiano, 2000; Santiapillai et al., 1999; Reading et al., 1998; Iriarte et al., 1997).

The Treaty on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), established in 1973 and implemented on 1 July 1975 (Wilnstekers, 1995; IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2002), is the covering international legislation with currently 156 (Roe et al., 2002) countries Party to it. It was developed by "States wishing to cooperate" (Lyster, 1985) in response to concerns regarding possible negative impacts on species' survival due to international trade. It is basically a trade regulation regime, using 'norms' and rules, with worldwide controls via regulation by government issued permits (Danaher, 1999) for restriction of trade in endangered species and regulation of trade in other species (IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2002; Roe et al., 2002; Wilnstekers, 1995).

CITES assigns species to Appendices, I, II, or III, which establishes different levels of trade restriction for species (IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2002; Roe et al., 2002; Wilnstekers, 1995) while Appendix IV (IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2002) makes provision for the issue of permits that are required before international trade in the species listed on Appendices I, II or III can occur. Amendments to species' listing are undertaken biennially at the Conference of Parties (CoPs or COP) and can result in the addition to or removal from an Appendix of a species, or transfer of species between Appendices. Proposals to amend the Appendices may only be submitted by CITES member governments, nonetheless, the process of amending the Appendices is increasingly a collaborative one, drawing on expertise from associated non-government sectors as well (IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2002; Carpenter pers obs.).

By acceding to CITES, Parties agree to place controls on international trade in species listed in appendices (Roe et al., 2002), but enforcement at the national level is problematic (Meo, 2001; Santiapillai et al., 1999). The effectiveness of CITES has been reviewed using large, charismatic, mammalian species (Carey, 1999; Santiapillai, 1999; 't Sas-Rolfe, 1997) and to a lesser degree on well known plants (Bolgiano, 2000). Current belief is that conservation scientists should take a more active role in this political arena (Song & M'gonicle, 2000; Meffe, 1998).

There persists uncertainty over Madagascar's situation regarding its reptile trade. Here, the author tries to clarify past actions, bringing the reader up to date with the current position regarding the trade. The author is also keen to receive feedback from readers as to the effect of CITES' actions and its implication on trade with Madagascar to the reader. There are lessons that can be learnt from the CITES actions with Madagascar that could better direct CITES' future actions for the better good of conservation and all actors involved.

Introduction to Madagascar

Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo) lying 250 miles off the east coast of Africa, covering an area 2 1/2 times the size of the United Kingdom (227,760 miles2 or 587,040 km2) and is the ninth poorest country in the world (Bradt, 1999, Greenway, 1997).

The Republic of Madagascar gained independence on 26/06/1960, having been a French colony from 1896. In the 1970's a military government held power, however, the political system was 'opened up' in 1990 after several political and economic crises. Opposition political parties were legalized in 1990 and Madagascar is now a multiparty republic (World Bank, 2002). Traditional Malagasy institutions, notably the self-governing village councils called Fokolona still exist (Murray, 1993), but their importance is declining in a legal context according to some (pers obs.; R. Lewis, pers com.) while others consider the opposite is true (O. Pronk, pers com.).

Recent history is dominated by the presidency of Didier Ratsiraka. During Ratsiraka's era, he reinvented himself in the early 1990's as a democrat and was re-elected in 1996 after a short term out of office (Economist, 2000). An aggressively contested presidential election in December 2001 resulted in a new president eventually gaining office - Marc Ravalomanana. Ravalomanana is now charged with rebuilding the country after being crippled, economically and infra-structurally, during the presidential contest.

The population numbers approximately 16 million (World bank, 2002) with 76% living in rural areas (PNUD, 2000) and a population growth rate of over 3% per year (World bank, 2002). Since Independence, per capita consumption has dropped by 45%, with a third of the people living below the poverty line, 60% classified as extremely poor and 15% of children die before their first birthday (Bradt, 1999).

The currency is the Malagasy Franc (fmg), which exchanges for: £1 = 10,388.17 fmg or $1 = 6,650.00 fmg (, 2002).

Madagascar's expanding rural population exist primarily by subsistence means (called "Tavy" - see Figure 1 - Terborgh, 1992; Green & Sussman, 1990). Tavy, combined with timber logging, charcoal and zebu pasture, has led to massive deforestation. Zebu pastures entail regularly burning areas (Figure 2) to keep scrub and tree regeneration at bay and to promote grass growth.

It is generally accepted that Madagascar can be stratified into 3 main areas based on biotype; these being the Western (dry deciduous forests), Central (hauts plateaux) and Eastern (rainforest) biogeographic zones, with some authors also identifying the Southwest, Sambirano and Northern areas as distinct zones too.

When humans first arrived they would have encountered an island covered in forest, which was inhabited by giant species of tortoise (Geochelone spp.), lemur (Megaladapis spp.) and birds (Aepyornis spp.) along side dwarf species such as hippos (Hippopotamus spp. and Hexaprotodon spp.) (Terborgh, 1992; MacPhee & Burney,1991; Burleigh & Arnold, 1986). All are now extinct, possibly due to direct human pressure from hunting or other indirect anthropogenic factors. These are obvious extinctions, there are possibly countless others that involve smaller, less conspicuous species, which have entered extinction unnoticed. The threat of further extinctions is far from alleviated, hence Madagascar maintains the focus of much conservation effort (Myers et al., 2000 - see Figures 3, 4 & 5).

CITES & Madagascar

The following information is taken mostly from CITES documentation, which can be viewed by the reader. A list of the relevant CITES website pages has been provided at the end of this document.

All Calumma spp, Furcifer spp (both genera found in Madagascar - Figures 6 & 7), Chamaeleo spp and Bradypodion spp are listed on CITES Appendix II (JNCC, 2001). In 1986 Madagascar relaxed its export legislation (de Vosjoli & Ferguson, 1995) resulting in an increase in trading figures for chameleons from Madagascar to fulfill demands of the global pet trade (Carpenter, 2002, 2001; Carpenter et al., in prep.; Brady & Griffiths, 1999; Hoover, 1998; JNCC, 1993; Smart & Bride, 1993). Post a phase II review of Appendix II listed species, the Animals Committee, at its 8th meeting in Brussels in 1993, formulated five recommendations that were directed to Madagascar's Management Authority (MA). The MA was unable to provide a satisfactory response to the Secretariat and in November 1994, at the 32nd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, recommended that Parties should suspend imports of specimens of all species of chameleon (except F. pardalis, F. oustaleti, F. lateralis and F. verrucosus) and Phelsuma spp (except P. laticauda, P. lineata, P. madagascariensis, and P. quadriocellata). This was until the MA of Madagascar had satisfied all actions recommended by the CITES Animals Committee (Carpenter, 2001; Jenkins, 2000).

In response to these CITES actions a management structure was established, which attempted to fulfill the requirements. Three people initiated the management structure, called the Experimental Management Program (EMP), and presented it to CITES at the 15th Animals Committee meeting held on Madagascar in 1999. The EMP originally had three exporters assigned to it and also named the collectors, collection sites and intermediaries to be used for each species as well as establishing, on paper, a price structure. The number of exporters grew to five in 2001 and the collection sites were to be found all around the island. By this stage, 2001/2002, the EMP had dissipated after a damning report by Jenkins (2000) and attempts to introduce new conventions (Conventions 2000 & 2001) to replace the EMP never reached fruition with clarity (Carpenter, 2001, 2002).

So what happened, why, and where does this leave us?

In 1999 and 2000 the species traded by Madagascar had been restricted primarily to F. pardalis, F. oustaleti, F. lateralis and F. verruscosus (Carpenter et al., in prep) - this would be deemed as successful by CITES as it is due to their recommendation "that all Parties suspend imports" (CITES Notification No. 1999/20). In practice the suspension of imports is actually issued to the importing MA, thus the onus is on them to observe illegal trade. Madagascar could have undertaken a 'Reservation' (under Article XXIII) to openly show their objection to this and carry on trading with fellow countries that also took out a 'Reservation', but decided to accept the restrictions.

With the introduction of the EMP came the quota of 2000 animals per species per year. It must be highlighted that "Quotas established represent the maximum number of specimens that may be authorized for export in the calendar year 2002. Quotas refer, unless otherwise specified, to specimens of wild origin" and that only the four species are permitted for export (CITES Notification No.2002/032). Exporters were 'happy' to 'follow' the EMP at a time when the possibility of species expansion existed, such as when Jenkins (2000) used the Brady & Griffiths (1999) report to generate support for the addition of 5 other chameleon species to be added to the four species permitted for export.

When this failed to materialise loopholes were sought by exporters. These consisted of using civil servant naivety and lack of knowledge to 'mould' a situation that best served their own interests, masked behind what they said CITES would want/allow - such as the 'R' (Ranched) and 'CB' (Captive Bred) labelled systems. As Madagascar has not informed CITES of any change to the exportable species due to 'R' or 'CB' systems then these are still not permitted despite current beliefs stating the contrary. Some exporters state that within their percentage of the export quota they have females that are gravid on arrival. They retain these gravid females until they have deposited their eggs, then, post laying, export the females as part of their quota again. The eggs are incubated and the hatchlings sold as extra to the quota (O. Pronk, pers com.). There is much discussion currently within IUCN about this area as some consider this ranching, which is not permitted, whilst others say it is not - the discussion will surely develop further in the future. Also species labelling often uses outdated nomenclature despite the attention drawn to correct naming of species. For example, Furcifer labordi, the current and correct name, is often labelled Chamaeleo labordi on CITES permits, a name that does not exist in the CITES listings. Therefore personnel checking the 2001 checklist listings (JNCC, 2001) will not find the species and thus allow its entry. Whilst people may not want to hear it, corruption has also plays a part in the process within the trade on Madagascar. Also, CITES MA in importing countries, often developed, have possibly become complacent with the recommendations posted by the secretariat. Whilst Madagascar is criticised for not controlling the trade, it is also of great concern that other country's MA have accepted consignments that contained species other than the permitted four, such as that reported in Ezine by Ken Kalisch, highlighting either complacency or lack of knowledge within importing MA's.

Currently a 6-month moratorium is in place due to the recent political problems. This provides the perfect opportunity for CITES to carry out the significant trade review, which it is currently in the process of and re-evaluate its actions. Proposals have been submitted by Madagascar's MA to list Brookesia spp (see Figure 8) on Appendice II along with other listing changes that were hoped to be decided upon at COP on 3-15/11/2002. The acceptance of the proposals depends upon the UN officially recognising Ravalomanana's new government.

Now exists a perfect opportunity for Madagascar, in association with all actors and NGO's involved with the trade, to work to develop an open, correct and lasting management structure that would allow the harvesting of chameleons at sustainable levels with some financial feedback to local people from the trade. These local benefits are greatly needed in any such future plan, as it is deforestation that is the primary concern for the future of chameleons on Madagascar. Whilst readers may be friends of exporters, as am I, it does fall on them to follow the lead of some of their fellows who are trying to genuinely do 'fair' business with concern for species, peoples and the country they operate in.


The author would like to hear from anyone with views on:

  1. The current situation regarding the reptile trade, especially from importers/retailers and views on CITES;

  2. How CITES legislation affects businesses;

  3. What preferences exist in terms of the desired chameleon age that importers/retailers would like to see in the trade;

  4. Breeding aspects for Furcifer oustaleti;

  5. Any other views or questions.

Website Page References

Madagascar Photo Album


Angus I. Carpenter, BSc.(Hons), MSc.

Angus has been working on 'The chameleon project' ( for the last 3 years in Madagascar. Prior to this he was working on a Round Island gecko (Phelsuma guentheri) project on Round Island and Mauritius and for Cambridge University's department of Geography on their 'Floodplain restoration project'. He enjoys many sports including scuba diving. He is not looking forward to spending his first winter back in the UK having spent the last 5 years in tropical climes!!!

You can contact Angus at:

Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

School of Environmental Sciences

University of East Anglia




Tel.: +44 (0)1603 593990

Fax.: +44 (0)1603 507719


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