The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has been described as the best-recognized international treaty on endangered species and, at the same time, as the least understood. This paradox may result from CITES being structured, implemented, and enforced as a trade treaty, rather than as a conservation measure. The title of the treaty fails to mention conservation and makes no such promises, even though endangered species may rely on wise-use conservation for their survival. By specifying endangered wild species, the title contributes to the paradox, because nations party to the treaty not only address endangered species but also threatened species and, adopting the precautionary principle, species that might become threatened because of trade. To accommodate port-of-entry inspectors untrained in taxa identification, whole families, such as the Orchidaceae, are listed on CITES appendixes, including species that are neither endangered nor wild. A timeline of significant events in the establishment of international flora and fauna treaties, beginning with a 1900 London Convention to conserve wild animals of Africa and moving forward to CITES and beyond, is presented to increase the general understanding of how CITES came to be, how it applies to plants, and especially how it applies to orchid conservation.
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