Teaming up to End Wildlife Trafficking

Cheyenne Johnson, Managing Editor.

Stop Poaching Now! doesn’t work alone.

We’re proud partners with global groups and organizations, fighting day in and day out to protect the most threatened animals species. The United States Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA)  is one of those groups. Through their tireless work, the alliance collaborates with non-profits and corporations to find real world and practical ways to bring an end to the illegal trafficking of the world’s animals.

The path forward for USWTA wasn’t always clear. In 2016, the unanimous and bipartisan passage of the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act encouraged the alliance’s creation. The act legislatively endorsed both the task force and the national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking and encouraged the government task force and non-governmental advisory council to collaborate on this mission.

“We like to see ourselves as a convener and a coordinating mechanism in Washington on the issue of wildlife trafficking,” said former Executive Director of the USWTA, Sara Walker. “If any government staff person or cabinet member is interested in learning more, knowing more, doing more, we are certainly happy to help facilitate any new work that comes our way.”

Rhinos grazing in Africa
Rhinos are under a daily threat of being poached for their horns.

As 2017 drew to a close and the advisory council was dismantled under President Donald Trump, USWTA faced a dilemma about how to move forward.

“Because we weren’t developed to be a long-term organization, we didn’t have the infrastructure to continue on our own indefinitely,” said Association of Zoos and Aquariums Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking, Sara Walker, “and as we started winding down with the last piece of our funding in 2017 our partners, especially our corporate partners, started expressing interest to me in keeping this thing going.

“We felt that in order to do that, we needed to find an institutional home for the alliance that would provide some financial support, of course, but also infrastructure support, resources, and just really help me be a coordinating mechanism for all the various alliance members, and that’s how we came to decide on AZA.”

In February 2018, AZA announced USWTA would be going to the association as a member program.

“Wildlife trafficking is a global epidemic, and is driving some of the world’s most beloved animals to the brink of extinction,” said President and CEO of AZA, Dan Ash.

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are world leaders in saving animals from extinction, and this strategic alignment with travel, media, and consumer products business leaders, as well as conservation NGOs, will create and sustain powerful momentum.”

Tiger and her cub resting in a jungle
Tigers are one of the most threatened animals on Earth due to poaching and trafficking.

While initially born as an advisory council to the government, USWTA’s role expands far beyond Washington. The alliance prides itself on its collaborative and cooperative work with non-profit and corporate organizations. Companies like Google, ebay, Etsy, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., JetBlue, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and LiveAuctioneers have joined with USTWA to ensure they don’t contribute to or support wildlife trafficking. The membership doesn't come without commitment, however.

“As much as possible, we do require all of the companies that become members of the alliance to make three main commitments,” said Walker.

“One, to clean their supply chains if they need cleaning; two: to raise awareness with their consumers about the wildlife trafficking issue and the steps they can take to prevent these animals from going extinct in the wild; and three, to work together with industry competitors, in some sense, to create the model and the best practices [sic] at that baseline.”

As much as the alliance encourages cooperation across industries, they also promote open and honest communication between these companies and USWTA. According to Walker, USWTA doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach and works closely with its members to decide the best ways to protect wildlife. For some companies, this means closing off supply-chain loopholes that allow wildlife traffickers to sell their illegal products in legal markets. For others, it’s about educating their workforce and customers about the steps they can take.

“As long as there is demand and a high price for those illegal products, there will always be somebody on the ground who’s willing to kill an animal to fuel that demand,” said Walker. “But we also have to make sure that we’re informing the companies about the steps they need to take internally to make sure these products aren’t actually getting into the hands of consumers.”

Despite the complexity of the issue and the solutions, Walker is confident in USWTA’s future, and all of us at SPN are excited to continue working together to protect the animals of the world.

Elephant and calf in Africa
Elephants remain at extreme risk because of the demand for their ivory.

The following is a Q&A that SPN’s Managing Editor, Cheyenne Johnson, had with Sara Walker, who was extremely generous with her time.

Questions with Sara Walker, Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking

Is USWTA a government organization?

“We’re completely separate from the government, but we do have an understanding that as much as we can we want to collaborate with government agencies on this work and up until now we’re still working very well with staff level folks within the different agencies that we started partnering with a couple of years ago.”

What’s happening with the government task force now that the advisory council has been disbanded?

“The work of the task force continues… They’ve already met this year so as far as I’m concerned, the government is still taking this issue very seriously. Certainly, we could be doing more. I hope to see more out of the administration in the near future. We stand by ready to collaborate as desired and as needed.”

Why didn’t USWTA become a part of a governmental body?

“There are certainly pluses and minuses to being a government agency. The reasons we didn’t become a part of a government agency in the first place, those reasons still exist today. Essentially, we work very quickly and very nimbly, and that’s just something that cannot be done within a government agency, unfortunately, just because of the bureaucracy you inevitably have to deal with… Our skillsets are very complementary.”

Why did you join with AZA?

“[Dan Ash] has really made the SAFE Program, Saving Animals From Extinction, a hallmark effort. So we thought this was just a great collaboration and this offers AZA members a whole new platform from which they can talk about the plight of these endangered species and help inspire visitors to do more to protect them in the wild and then also provides the alliance a wonderful new platform. AZA has 200 million visitors a year at its institutions. It provides us a platform and helps to consolidate those interests.

“In turn, our other industry sectors see this as a wonderful opportunity to partner with some potential zoos and aquariums to spread the word about what they’re doing to combat wildlife trafficking so everyone sees this as a very positive thing for the issue and the work that they’re doing."

Why has USWTA moved its focus beyond the US?

“Even our member companies, while they’re US-based companies, these are global brands. These are, in some cases, companies that have supply chains that don’t originate in the United States so while we were focused on US companies and US efforts previously, most of our companies have a global footprint and a global scope in some way, shape, or form.”

Why does USWTA work with the big names in specific industries?

“I’m hoping that by working together with the big names in each sector, we can then create a baseline and a model with which we can go out into the rest of the industry [for them] to essentially adopt.”


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