Illegal Wildlife Trade Goes Airborne

By Nina Rygh, Asia Reporter

Wildlife trafficking networks heavily exploit the global airport sector to smuggle endangered animals and wildlife products across borders, according to a new analysis of global wildlife trafficking seizures in airports.

The report, In Plane Sight: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector, built on a previous C4ADS study that investigated airport seizures of illegal wildlife and wildlife products from January 2009 to August 2016. The new report issued by both TRAFFIC and C4ADS added data from 2017 and assessed trafficking incidents of pangolin, marine products, and mammal products.

Global Poaching Crisis

In Plane Sight found that 136 countries had at least one incident of wildlife trafficking from 2009-2017. China had the most individual instances of trafficking, likely due to its extensive involvement in the ivory trade.

The most common way of transporting wildlife products was through checked baggage, with air-freight and hand-luggage not far behind.

Rhino Poaching

The new data from 2017 also found a massive spike in rhino horn seizures, nearly tripling from 2016. The data further indicated that the majority of ivory and rhino horn originated in Africa before being flown to Asian countries like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Reptile and Bird Trafficking

Reptile and bird seizures occurred across the world but were mainly concentrated in the Americas, Europe, and South Asia. These animals are typically transported while still alive and are carried on direct flights to varying wildlife trafficking hotspots around the globe.

The information collected by this report can help international anti-poaching organizations redirect their efforts to the areas where it's most needed and help battle the global crisis.

“Wildlife seizure data is vital for identifying, understanding and combatting wildlife trafficking in airports around the world,” said report author Mary Utermohlen of C4ADS.

Still, it’s important to recognize that seizure data of any kind only provides a partial window into the true nature of trafficking activity. What seizures can’t show are the patterns and routes associated with trafficking activity that is not detected, seized or reported by enforcement authorities.”

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest black market in the world and impacts more than 7,000 species of animals and plants worldwide. Understanding the realities of the trafficking crisis is a vital component to battling it on a global stage.