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At the next Conference of the Parties in 2016, the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will likely be presented with proposals for legal trade in some of the most iconic endangered species covered by the treaty – elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers. This article evaluates the proposals for legal trade and discusses how the parties to CITES should approach the questions raised by these proposals. The projections about trade in elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers reveal deep and multilayered uncertainty. The article concludes by suggesting that conservation principles, sound science and the legal mandate of CITES itself should lead the parties to adopt a cautious approach. Trade bans should be maintained to protect species from extinction due to trade.