WCS Wildlife Trade
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Laws Relevant to Wildlife Trade


CITES – The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between the governments of 173 countries to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten survival of these species. The United States has been a member of CITES since its inception. Afghanistan has been a member of CITES since 1985. Iraq is not a member, however local conservation NGOs are working towards making Iraq a member in the near future.

Confiscation of Wildlife itemsUnited States

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a U.S. federal law that makes CITES law and strictly prohibits trade of threatened and endangered species within and between States. The ESA states that a person under U.S. jurisdiction may not import or export an endangered species, take any endangered species within U.S. territory or the territorial sea, sell or offer an endangered species for sale in interstate or foreign commerce, engage in trade in violation of CITES, or possess any specimen traded in violation of CITES. The ESA applies to any U.S. territory or U.S. citizen in a foreign territory, which allows for prosecutions of violations occurring entirely overseas. For example, a U.S. citizen trading snow leopard skins in Afghanistan could be prosecuted on return to the U.S. If such a sale was organized by a dealer in the U.S, the dealer could be prosecuted in federal court, even if the buyer, seller and leopard skin never left Afghanistan.

The Coral Reef Executive Order also pertains to this wildlife trade. Many products available to soldiers on the illegal market--such as sea turtle shells, dried corals, and similar items-- come from coral reefs. Loss of these species ultimately undermines healthy coral ecosystems. Reducing impacts from international trade in coral reef species is one of 13 goals listed by the U.S. National Coral Reef Task Force to carry out this executive order.

Staged military arrestOther regulations related to trade of endangered species

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act bans the capture, killing, sale, or transport (domestic and international) of any migratory bird, bird part, nest, or egg listed in the act. This could impact military personnel if they are purchasing items containing parts of listed birds such as feathers, taxidermy specimens or pets.

The Lacey Act of 1900 prohibits interstate and foreign trade in endangered species and their parts. An important Lacey Act provision is the extension of protection to species covered by the laws of foreign nations. Possession or trade of any animal taken in violation of the laws of another country is an offence, and numerous prosecutions have been undertaken on this basis. This is particularly important given that during the past year, Afghanistan enacted laws that officially make possession of or trade in 30 species by nationals or internationals illegal, and the number of species protected will likely increase to 60 or 70 by December 2009.

Other regulations related to the trade in endangered species are the African Elephant Conservation Act; the Asian Elephant Conservation Act; the Rhinoceros and Tiger Product Labeling Act; and the Wild Bird Conservation Act.


Military personnel are further subject to Uniform Code Of Military Justice (UCMJ) for potential violations of the following regulations:
  • General Order 1-B;  2. Prohibited Activities, j. Adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal.
  • Defense Travel Regulation 4500.9-R;  3. Agricultural Restrictions and Prohibitions; a(1) Animal and Poultry Products.  United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) restricts entry of animals, poultry, birds’ eggs, wild bird feathers, poultry products and byproducts, and animal products and byproducts, to include meat extracts, secretions (including milk and cheese), untanned hides, untanned skins, wool, hair, bone, and horns.  (There are no USDA APHIS restrictions on animal trophies that are full-finished for display. There are, however, US Fish and Wildlife Service restrictions and prohibitions on the importation of mounted birds and animals, including elephant ivory, elephant parts, and products thereof.)
  • U.S. Central Command Regulation 600-10 Appendix E; USCENTCOM PERMITTED AND PROHIBITED ITEMS LIST-Prohibits the possession or shipment of Animals: Live, Dead or Parts.  It also enforces restrictions of the USDA, APHIS, and CITES. 
U.S. military personnel bringing wildlife parts or products covered by these acts into the country could be in violation of these regulations and face fines as high as $250,000 and prison terms of up to 20 years.  In addition, military personnel may be subject to Uniform Code of Military Justice.



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Heidi Kretser, Ph.D.
Wildlife Conservation Society 7 Brandy Brook Ave Saranac Lake, NY 12983 USA
518 891-8872 ext 105