Wildlife traffickers are exploiting the air transport sector to smuggle ivory, rhino horn and other protected animals and products on commercial airline flights, but there are ways to stop them.
Those recommendations are found in a report, “Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector,” produced as part of the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership. Researchers looked at airport seizures in 114 countries, from January 2009 to August 2016, to find wider trends in how the flights are used by smugglers.
In one instance, a Chinese national was arrested in Guangzhou Baiyun Airport on his way back from Nigeria with 39.5 kilograms of ivory and 30.95 kilograms of rhino horn. The suspect told police that Nigerian customs was easy to breeze through; he was later linked to a Lagos-based trafficking syndicate.
“This analysis provides a global perspective on what many in the airline industry are already seeing at the regional level: transport infrastructure is being abused to facilitate the trafficking of wildlife,” said Michelle Owen, the ROUTES Partnership Lead. “There are a variety of low-cost and high-impact solutions available that airports and airlines can take to help address this issue.”
The illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth largest black market in the world, and is worth some USD$20 billion annually. While quality research into environmental damage or transnational criminal organizations is accessible, few studies have looked at the air transport sector itself to understand patterns, routes and enforcement issues.
The report offers a partial window, because it can’t show what happened when illegal shipments aren’t identifies and seized, says author Mary Utermohlen of C4ADS. Yet industry experts say the existing data on species, concealment practices and high-risk routes will help to shut down illegal wildlife traffickers.
To view the complete report, see this link.