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Aviation and Wildlife Trafficking – A Story of Progress

It is too often possible to equate news with negative news. There are reasons of this to be found in human psychology but unfortunately this means that we often miss out on hearing about progress that can inspire and motivate more positive action. One example of this are efforts in recent years in the aviation industry to combat Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT). This was brought up in an article on the site International Airport Review (link below) and it is a piece of news that deserve to be spread further across the industry.

The base for work with this issue an international agreement called CITES, which stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Up to 2015 there were individual airline initiatives to prevent such trade but not a comprehensive aand coordinated industry strategy or any broad international cooperation. However, as attention to this issue increased over time something had to happen.

One important step to establish such cooperation was the formation of the partnership ROUTES, which is an acronym for Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species. This was initiated by USAID and brought together government, industry (e.g. Airports Council International – ACI), International Air Transport Association – IATA) and non-government organisations (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network – TRAFFIC, World Wildlife Foundation – WWF).

The work was then started by collecting data and producing reports on IWT in the aviation industry. With facts and good arguments available, awareness and training materials were developed and disseminated. ROUTES also developed technological solutions, such as a reporting app for illegal wildlife trade, which allows for anonymous reporting when there is suspicion of IWT. These reports go to the organisation Crime Stoppers for review and sharing law enforcement agencies. In the first two months after launch in September 2021 more than 120 reports were submitted by aviation personnel. In another project an algorithm to detect wildlife products during baggage screening was developed.

The ROUTES initiative has been concluded and the industry now has the information, knowledge and practices in place to continue the work of preventing IWT and wildlife products. Many companies in the industry have signed the United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, which includes formal assessments of their IwT prevention standards, and encouraging other companies to adhere to these standards. There are however still parts of the industry which do not live up to the same standards as the companies who have fully implemented awareness and preventive measures for IWT.

I was aware of the issue of IWT and the there has been measures take in the industry. I must however admit that I was unaware of the progress made. In terms of awareness, training and preventive efforts this looks like success. Still, it seems difficult to find numbers which can validate that these measures have affected IWT. It can probably be assumed that initiatives in recent years have made IWT more difficult, but the ultimate success needs to be assessed on the effects they have had. Even so, the progress so far should be recognised and lead to further efforts to ensure that IWT will be effectively combatted.

Link to article:
How the aviation industry transformed to combat wildlife trafficking

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