Article image

Over 900 threatened species are not protected by international trade agreements

The overexploitation of a variety of animal and plant species is currently a significant threat to nature. International pledges to halt species extinctions and ensure the sustainable harvest, use, and trade in wild species – such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – have recently been developed. 

However, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, 904 (two-fifths) of species identified as likely threatened by the international wildlife trade are not covered by such global agreements, including 370 species that are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Focus of the study

International wildlife trade protections set by CITES periodically decide on trade controls for thousands of animal and plant species. Yet, although over 40,000 species are currently protected through this framework, in the absence of a reliable, repeatable methodology to inform the listing process, it is likely that many species threatened by international trade could be missing out on necessary global protections. 

To identify such species and develop a robust methodology that could be employed by other scientists and conservationists in future studies, the researchers gathered data from the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species – the world’s most authoritative database on at-risk animal and plant species – and compared it with CITES-listed species. 

What the researchers discovered 

The analysis revealed that 904 species – including fish, flowering plants, birds, reptiles, and amphibians – are likely threatened by international trade, but are currently overlooked by CITES.

Among these species, 370 are listed by IUCN as Endangered or Critically Endangered, including 31 species of sharks and rays traded for their meat and fins, 23 species of palm intensively traded for horticulture, as well as other rare, notable species such as Owston’s Civer (used for wild meat and traditional medicine) and the Greater Green Leafbird (a major figure in the songbird trade).

Moreover, the scientists also identified 1,307 species which, although are currently CITES-listed, are still threatened by international trade, suggesting that they may require additional scrutiny to determine whether there are sustainability issues deserving tighter controls through CITES provisions. 

Finally, this study’s findings are not limited to identifying species in need of greater trade regulation, but could also inform the relaxation of trade controls for species which have improved in status and can potentially be traded sustainably.

Hundreds of unprotected species

“CITES listings should respond to the best available information on a species’ status and be adopted where they will be likely to benefit the species. While our research shows CITES performs moderately well at identifying species in need of trade regulation, it also suggests that hundreds of species are overlooked,” said study lead author Daniel Challender, a conservation scientist at the University of Oxford

“Cross-referencing data from the Red List with CITES listing information brings these potential protection gaps to light, and I hope that Parties to the Convention will use our methodology to inform their decisions in the run-up to and during the next CITES CoP, currently scheduled to take place in 2025.”

“To achieve the aims of both CITES and the new Global Biodiversity Framework on tackling nature loss, it is vital that the international trade in animal and plant species is both sustainable and does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild,” added co-author Kelly Malsch, the Head of Nature Conserved at the UN Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC).

“Our work identifies hundreds of species – including 370 Critically Endangered and Endangered species – in need of protections, and we also know data gaps mean the true figure could be much higher. We hope that CITES Parties will be able to use our new methodology in future to ensure that CITES listings are based on the best available science.”   

Species overlooked by CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It includes a wide variety of species, but due to the sheer number of species worldwide, some are inevitably overlooked.

The list of overlooked animals will change over time due to ongoing research, conservation efforts, and fluctuations in populations and habitats, as well as new threats like climate change and habitat loss. 

The following are examples of animal groups that may be overlooked by CITES:


Many species of invertebrates are often overlooked, including various types of insects, mollusks, and arachnids. These creatures often have vital roles in their ecosystems, yet are not as often the focus of conservation efforts.

Freshwater fish

Many freshwater fish species are under threat from habitat destruction, overfishing, and pollution. Although some are included in CITES appendices, many are not.


Amphibians are one of the most threatened groups of animals in the world, yet many species are not included in CITES appendices. Reasons include lack of data on their population status and the challenges of regulating trade in these animals.


Despite the large number of reptile species that are traded internationally for the pet market, many species are not covered under CITES. Reptiles can be difficult to track due to their secretive nature and the large number of unreported or illegal transactions.


While many birds are covered by CITES, certain species might be overlooked due to lack of data or due to the focus being on more charismatic species.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day