Wildlife traffickers hiding in plane sight, report claims

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Wildlife traffickers are highly dependent on air transport to smuggle endangered species, with seizures quadrupling between 2009 and 2017, ROUTES’s In Plane Sight report claims.

The report, In Plane Sight: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector, produced by C4ADS as part of the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership analyses global airport seizures of illegal wildlife and wildlife products from 2009 and 2017, showing rhino horn seizures almost tripled in 2017.

The data indicates that wildlife traffickers moving ivory, rhino horn, reptiles, birds, pangolins, marine products and mammals by air tend to rely on large hub airports all over the world.

According to the report, routes of wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn and pangolin tend to flow from Africa to Asia, often transiting through the Middle East and Europe.

Live animals including birds and reptiles generally rely on direct flights with China by far the most common destination for all seized wildlife products between 2009 and 2017.

Michelle Owen from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network is the ROUTES Partnership lead, and she says: “Criminals involved in wildlife trafficking are often directly connected to other illegal networks, including narcotics and human trafficking. By addressing wildlife trafficking, airports and airlines not only help protect endangered species, they also strengthen their operations and supply chains.”

In Plane Sight outlines a number of recommendations including building awareness among personnel and passengers, training staff, strengthening corporate policies and seizure protocols, and sharing seizure information.

Airports Council International (ACI) World senior manager of environment, Juliana Scavuzzi says traffickers are abusing transport systems to move products quickly, saying: “This provides airports with an important opportunity to play their role in preventing wildlife trafficking. ACI is committed to developing a framework to fight wildlife trafficking, and support our members with their efforts.”

The report says illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest black market in the world, worth $20 billion annually, impacting more than 7,000 species of animals and plants.