Airports worldwide have been called upon to have prominent CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) displays to raise public awareness of the scale and consequences of illegal trade in wildlife.

“Transnational organized crime groups are exploiting these legitimate forms of transport to move their contraband. Illegal rhino horn and pangolin scales are often transported by air. Raw illegal elephant ivory is being largely transported by sea, whilst most illegally traded worked ivory appears to be transported by air,” says CITES.

Illegal trade in wildlife is happening at an industrial scale, but in the context of the overall volumes of air and sea transport, we are often searching for a ‘needle in a haystack’, with only a tiny fraction of the overall cargo or passengers carrying illegally traded wildlife” said CITES Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon while attending the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) Global Sustainable Aviation Summit 2015 held in Geneva. The event represents the entire air transport industry and combines high-level political discussions and technical breakout sessions.

Mr Scanlon spoke and exchanged views with air transport leaders on the ‘Air transport’s role in reducing illegal trade in wildlife’. This follows his address to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM in Miami in June of this year.

We live in an interconnected world – and there are today over:  (a) 1.1 billion international tourist arrivals a year; (b) 100,000 flights every day; and (c) 500 million containers shipped a year, says CITES.

For enforcement efforts to be effective, Mr Scanlon stressed that enforcement agencies require good information and intelligence, which is where the transport sector can play a critical role, noting that their staff can be extra sets of eyes and ears on the ground – looking, listening and passing on information about anything that looks suspicious to relevant authorities.

A Transport Task Force established by The Royal Foundation, under the patronage of HRH the Duke of Cambridge and chaired by William Hague to address how the transport sector can assist in combating illegal trade in wildlife has already identified three areas where the transport sector can assist, which were shared with the Summit, namely: (a)Adopting and publicizing a zero tolerance policy on illegal trade in wildlife; (b) raising awareness among customers, clients, passengers and staff of the scale, nature and impacts of this illegal trade (including through airport displays and inflight magazines and videos); and (c) supporting customs and other enforcement agencies through the provision of  information or intelligence gathered by staff working on the ground.

This work is ongoing with the Taskforce set to complete its final recommendations in late 2015.

“There is a global collective effort underway across governments, the United Nations, international and national organizations, philanthropic entities, the private sector, local communities and dedicated individuals to combat illegal trade in wildlife – and just last week the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include specific targets on ending poaching and smuggling. The aviation community is a critical player in this endeavor, and today we reach out to each one of you to join in this global collective effort to bring these highly destructive crimes to an end” concluded Scanlon.

In his remarks, all airports were encouraged by Mr Scanlon to put in place prominent CITES airport displays to raise awareness amongst the travelling public of the scale and consequences of illegal trade in wildlife, and of the serious penalties that apply to trading illegally.

In response to the aviation industry being lobbied, especially recently, to take a stand on certain legal wildlife products being carried as cargo Scanlon said: “Our clear focus is on illegal trade in wildlife. We are determined to stop this illicit trade. This requires a scaled up, collaborative effort, in which ATAG members are key players. We have a lot more work to do together to achieve this critical objective of stopping illegal trade in wildlife – and this is where we believe our collective focus should be.”

CITES Secretary-General’s remarks at the ATAG Global Sustainable Aviation Summit 2015