Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora controls: import and export of protected species

How to obtain the import and export permits required for protected animals and plants (includes a list of the species covered).


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force to control the trade in endangered or protected animal or plant species. CITES controls apply to the import from or export to third countries of dead or living controlled species, as well as parts or derivatives (eg skin, fur, teeth, shell, feathers or blood and parts of some plants, eg seeds).

CITES now has 180 signatory countries, including the UK and all other EU countries. All signatories must abide by these internationally agreed rules that regulate the import, export and transhipment of protected flora and fauna.

This guide provides need-to-know information about CITES controls, such as how to import endangered species into the UK, the scope of the controls, and roles of the organisations involved in enforcement.

Importing endangered species into the UK

Endangered or protected animal or plant species are classified as ‘controlled goods’ under the CITES.

The endangered or protected species affected are listed in Appendices I, II and III to CITES. They are listed according to the degree of protection they need. You can read the full list of controlled species or see common examples of CITES-controlled species.

European Council Regulation 338/97, which applies the CITES agreement in law in the EU, lists these species in 4 annexes to the regulation. These are:

  • Annex A - all CITES Appendix I species, some CITES Appendix II and III species for which the European Community has adopted stricter domestic measures, and some non-CITES species
  • Annex B - all other CITES Appendix II species, some CITES Appendix III species, and some non-CITES species
  • Annex C - all other CITES Appendix III species
  • Annex D - some CITES Appendix III species for which the European Community holds a reservation, and some non-CITES species

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction, where trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II includes species in which trade must be controlled in order to ensure their survival.

Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country.

These are referred to in all UK-issued CITES documentation.

Before attempting to import any of the species in Annex A or B, you must apply to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for a CITES permit. If you want to receive an acknowledgment while you wait for your permit to be processed, please supply your email address with your application. For Annexes C and D you need to present a notification to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) prior to importation. You must also obtain an export permit from the country of origin certifying the species was obtained legally.

Importers should retain a copy of the CITES permit as proof of legal importation. Please note that for some species the EU has stricter controls than those required under CITES. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), an agency of Defra, will advise you on the specifics of your application if this is appropriate.

Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP) traders

Goods must be accompanied by full supporting documentation (eg veterinary certificates) and a hard copy of the simplified frontier declaration (SFD) must be presented to customs pre-clearance so that border admissibility controls can take place.

There are specific customs procedure codes for importing controlled goods and you must complete additional boxes on the SFD.

You must not remove goods from the frontier until all controls and examinations are complete.

If you wish to import controlled goods, you must apply for authorisation or an amendment of your existing authorisation, which is available from local authorising offices.

The roles of key organisations in enforcing CITES controls

EU regulations require each member state to designate a management authority (MA) and at least one scientific authority to oversee matters concerning CITES.


The UK’s designated MA is the Defra Wildlife Division. It communicates with the CITES Secretariat, European Commission and others, and provides information to the public and trade to ensure compliance. The APHA issues permits and certificates under the terms of the EU regulations.

The APHA includes the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS), which is responsible for regulating the trade in endangered species. WLRS has over 70 wildlife inspectors who work countrywide undertaking compliance inspections and supporting law-enforcement agencies such as the police in wildlife crime investigations.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is the UK’s police-led unit. It gathers intelligence on national wildlife crime and supports the police and UKBA. The NWCU coordinates UK and international agencies that deal with wildlife crime.

INTERPOL, the world association of police forces, is also involved with stopping illegal wildlife trade. It supports and runs the Environmental Crime Programme.

UKBA Prohibitions and Restrictions Border Policy

Prohibitions and Restrictions Border Policy is responsible for customs policy in respect of CITES controls.

The team works with frontier control staff and maintains and issues guidance to the regions, as well as representing UK customs nationally and at EU and international CITES meetings.

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Northern Ireland (DARDNI)

DARDNI considers applications for import and export permits in Northern Ireland.

Common examples of CITES-controlled species

The full list of ‘controlled species’ runs to several thousand animals and plants.


The most commonly encountered include:

  • birds of paradise
  • birds of prey
    • buzzards
    • caracaras
    • condors
    • eagles
    • falcons
    • goshawks
    • harriers
    • hawks
    • hobbies
    • kestrels
    • kites
    • ospreys
    • sparrowhawks
  • flamingos
  • owls
  • parrots
    • amazons
    • cockatoos
    • conures
    • corellas
    • keas
    • lories/lorikeets
    • lovebirds
    • macaws
    • parakeets
    • rosellas


The most commonly encountered include:

  • apes
    • chimpanzees
    • gibbons
    • gorillas
    • orang-utans
  • bears
  • cats (non-domestic)
    • jaguars
    • leopards
    • lions
    • lynxes
    • margays
    • ocelots
    • pumas
    • servals
    • tigers
  • dolphins
  • elephants
  • hippopotami
  • lemurs
  • monkeys
    • baboons
    • capuchins
    • colobuses
    • dianas
    • grivets
    • guernons
    • howlers
    • langurs
    • macaques
    • mandrills
    • mangabeys
    • marmosets
    • sakis
    • squirrel monkeys
    • spider monkeys
    • tamarins
  • pandas
  • porpoises
  • rhinoceroses (rhino horn cannot be exported from the UK)
  • whales

Reptiles and amphibians

The most commonly encountered include:

  • alligators
  • boas
  • caimans
  • chameleons
  • crocodiles
  • gharials
  • gila monsters
  • poison arrow frogs
  • pythons
  • tortoises (land)
  • turtles (sea)


The most commonly encountered include birdwing butterflies.


The most commonly encountered include tarantulas.


The most commonly encountered include:

  • cacti
  • cyclamen
  • mahogany
  • orchids
  • proteas
  • rainsticks
  • ramin (timber)

You will also need a permit for eggs, feathers, tusks, teeth, skins, shells, seeds, wood, blood, semen, and tissue of controlled plants and animals. Domestic objects for trade containing these items also need a permit, for example, a snakeskin watchstrap or a piano with ivory keys will need CITES clearance.

Validity of import and export permits for CITES-controlled goods

Permits issued by APHA are valid for one consignment only.

Some importers or exporters are issued with multiple permits to allow them to import or export a number of consignments of the same species from or to the same country within a 6 month period.

Some importers or exporters are issued with semi-complete permits where there is a proven need for them to move goods at short notice.

As the importer or exporter, you must enter details such as quantity of controlled goods and country of export or import in typescript at the time the goods are imported or exported. Incomplete or handwritten forms are not accepted.

With rare exceptions, UK import permits are not valid unless supported by a valid export permit issued by the country from which it was consigned. If you move a specimen into or out of the EU without the appropriate permits it is almost impossible to obtain authorisation retrospectively.

If you are making an application on behalf of a UK resident or business, you must complete the CITES application with the full name and address of the actual exporter or importer, not your own. Your own name and address details must be included in box 23 of the application form or box 20 of the EC Certificate application form. The application must include written confirmation of this arrangement, signed by the person on whose behalf you are making the application.

CITES import and export permits

For details of the Annexes to the CITES regulations, see importing endangered species into the UK.

UK-issued CITES import permits

You must present a valid import permit for controlled species on arrival in the European Community.

The standard permit for the import, export or re-export of Annexes A and B species, or the export or re-export of Annex C species, is a 4 page document, of which only the top 3 copies are presented to customs:

  • white copy (with a grey patterned background - copy 1)
  • yellow copy (copy 2)
  • green copy (copy 3)

At importation, customs endorse all copies of the permit. They retain copies 1 and 3 and return them to APHA. Copy 2 is returned to the importer as proof of importation. Copy 4 (the pink sheet) is retained by APHA upon issue of the permit.

UK CITES import notification forms

The import notification for Annexes C and D species is a 2 page form and both pages are presented to customs:

  • white copy (copy 1)
  • yellow copy (copy 2)

Customs endorses both copies. They retain copy 1 and return it to APHA. Copy 2 is returned to the importer as proof of importation.

UK-issued export permits

At export or re-export, all copies are endorsed. Copies 1 and 2 are returned to the exporter. Copy 3 is returned to APHA.

CITES export permits

When customs are satisfied everything is in order, they will endorse the permit with the import entry details and send it to APHA with the copy of the UK CITES import permit.

Published 9 August 2012