Breaking the wildlife trafficking supply chain: How airports can help sustain wildlife on Earth

Silvana Gomez by Silvana Gomez | Mar 3, 2020

Wildlife on Earth is highly menaced by illegal wildlife trade. The illegal trade of flora and fauna, worth up to US$23 billion annually, is the fourth most lucrative black market in the world and impacts more than 7,000 species of animals and plants every year. From furniture to fashion accessories, medicines, and food, wildlife trafficking is in our daily lives, and it is everyone’s responsibility to combat it to the extent possible.

Environmental issues such as climate change, local air quality, and local wildlife management have been on the radar of airports for quite a long time. More recently, wildlife trafficking is being discussed and included in various airports’ sustainability plans which is a step in the right direction.

Data obtained between 2009 and 2019 backs the importance of airports for breaking the illegal wildlife trade supply chain from the source to the consumer: 2,008 seizures were registered in airports representing 75,281 kg of wildlife products and at least 5,513,970 animals seized in 102 countries around the world.

Image: ROUTES Partnership

Combatting wildlife trafficking aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 15.7 and 15.C: “Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products” and: “Enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species […]” Understanding this, airports have adopted a holistic approach to sustainability where actions are implemented to prevent wildlife trafficking through air transport supply chains.

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ACI Europe's Sustainability Strategy for Airports
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Airports interested in including wildlife trafficking in their sustainability programs are encouraged to follow ACI Europe’s Sustainability Strategy for Airports framework and guidance. The following are areas of activity in which airports have taken an active role:

  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding the illegal wildlife trade
  • Staff Awareness and training: Raise awareness of airport employees, deliver training and take actions to address wildlife trafficking.Staff awareness can be raised by including a short session on wildlife trafficking during security awareness training. Staff members can be made aware of the indicators to look for and how to report a suspected case of trafficking.
  • Public Awareness: Raise awareness and educate passengers on wildlife trafficking and endangered species.Airports provide an ideal environment to raise public awareness. Options might be video presentations, exhibits, hand-outs, PA announcements, and social media posts.
  • Engagement and leadership: Engage with other stakeholders and invest in partnerships and initiatives.
    • Airports can engage with their local communities to raise awareness about the risks for the community of Illegal Wildlife trade and how to report a suspected case of trafficking.
    • By working with local law-enforcement and customs authorities, airports can help to ensure that good communication channels exist for notification of potential trafficking activity and that appropriate action is taken when a potential trafficker is identified.
    • By having open communication channels, airports and airlines can notify each other if there is an incident of concern. This may enable more time for appropriate observation and response.
    • By coordinating with other local entities such as foreign consulates to raise awareness, implement detection and assistance programs, and advocate for laws to support prosecution.

Joining global efforts against wildlife trafficking

Images: ROUTES Partnership, Wildlife Trafficking in Aviation Factsheet

Aviation is the fastest form of transportation to go between points miles apart; thus, no airport, regardless of its size, is exempt from being or becoming a transit point for wildlife trafficking. For example, a study published by TRAFFIC in 2017 found that smugglers use around 27 new transport routes each year to circumvent detection and enforcement while trafficking pangolins – the world’s most trafficked mammal that is prohibited from international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) .

Efforts done by some airports around the world are valuable but might be insufficient without the commitment of other members and relevant stakeholders such as airlines, customs, and enforcement authorities. Wildlife conservation is a shared responsibility and joining global efforts might increase the chances to disrupt the illegal wildlife supply chain.

In 2016 ACI and other industry partners signed the ‘United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration’ by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. This was followed by the adoption of ACI Resolution 3/2016 at the 26th Meeting of the ACI World General Assembly in Montreal, a unilateral commitment of the airport industry to take steps to combat wildlife trafficking.

Since, the Buckingham Palace Declaration has been signed by 8 ACI members. Considering that more than 100 airports have reported wildlife trafficking instances, ACI World is currently developing a document that will guide those airports interested in committing to the declaration and effectively support the disruption of illegal wildlife trade.

ACI is also a member of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership along with industry partners, conservation organizations, and other US government agencies. The Partnership brings together stakeholders to form a concerted international response against wildlife trafficking via the air transport supply chain. The partnership supports its members and any interested aviation stakeholders by providing guidance, awareness materials, online/on-site training and a dashboard with in-depth graphics and information of the wildlife trafficked through airports.

Adding to these efforts, ACI World has created the ACI Wildlife Task Force to identify and review emerging wildlife conservation issues within the industry and develop an appropriate response. The Task Force holds a monthly call and is open to all ACI member airports who can request information.

So, on this World Wildlife Day, remember that sustaining all wildlife on Earth is in everyone’s hands.

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Best Practice Case Studies from Selected Airports: Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade
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Silvana Gomez

Silvana Gomez

Research Assistant, Anti-Wildlife Trafficking, ACI World
Silvana is specialized in aviation and space law and has an extensive legal, research, and administrative background. She joined ACI World in January 2020 and supports the Environment Department with the implementation of USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership activities and objectives.
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