The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) says significant progress has been made politically, financially and technically since 2013.

Speaking on Saturday at the opening of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Secretary General of CITES, Dr John Scanlon, said since COP16 there has been an ever increasing political interest in wildlife trade issues, in particular tackling illegal wildlife trade.

"The political interest that has been expressed in CITES has occurred in many ways over the past three years including through statements and initiatives of presidents, prime ministers, resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly, the UN Environmental Assembly as well as through many high level political events.

"This heightened level of political support has also come from the personal initiatives of high profile public figures," he said.

Dr Scanlon said the political support has led to more funding being available to address wildlife trade issues.

"Since COP16 the Global Environment Facility has committed 131 million dollars to fight illegal wildlife trade and poaching through the global wildlife programme. This also addresses conservation and sustainable livelihoods and will leverage significant additional funds," he said.

Countries have been encouraged to engage local communities on the benefits of protecting wildlife if they want to succeed in conservation.

United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Erik Solheim said: "CITES cannot succeed in isolation, only if we step up we can succeed, this means we need to start a concerted dialogue with all the people living out there.

"We need to step up and bring to the attention of the local communities all the benefits of them in protecting wildlife, in tourism and in so many other ways and we need a constant consultation process with local communities otherwise we will be never succeed."

Speaking during a media briefing at the CITES COP17, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said South Africa is delighted to host the conference.

Molewa said there will be 120 documents and 62 proposals which will be discussed at the conference.

She said South Africa has been working hard to ensure the conference is a success.

"Delegates should be prepared to work throughout and make sure that we make our nations proud and at the heart of it all to save our species that are almost extinct but also regulating those that need to be regulated," Molewa said.