The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments of over 180 countries to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants, from elephants to orchids, does not threaten their survival. Today, CITES accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation.

CITES is an international agreement to which states and regional economic integration organizations adhere voluntarily. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention ('joined' CITES) are known as Parties. Although CITES is binding legally on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level. It is therefore absolutely essential that CITES Parties have legislation in place allowing them to implement and enforce all aspects of the Convention. This applies also to each UK Overseas Territory to which CITES has been extended; it is necessary for each territory to have its own domestic legislation that is compliant with CITES national legislation (for example, see relevant legislation from Ascension Island and Saint Helena). UKOTs have received support from Defra and partner organisations to ensure that this has happened and that the territories have the capacity to implement CITES effectively. The information on which international environmental agreements have been extended to which UK territories has been updated in this web-site.

Roughly 5,800 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. They are listed in the three CITES Appendices. The species are grouped in the Appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade. They include some whole groups, such as primates, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sea turtles, parrots, corals, cacti and orchids – a number of which are found in the UK Overseas Territories. But in some cases, only a subspecies or geographically separate population of a species (for example the population of just one country) is listed.