The world’s air transport industry plays a vital role connecting the globe. It facilitates economic and social development, and helps encourage trade and spread knowledge. Sadly, there are a small number of people who take advantage of that connectivity to illegally traffic some of our most precious and endangered animals and plants.
The illegal trade in protected wildlife is worth an estimated $19 billion per year. Much of the revenue finds its way into criminal activities and even helps fund terrorism. It also causes untold damage to our natural inheritance.
Despite heroic conservation efforts, there has been an alarming rise in poaching in recent years—in the case of the rhino, by a horrifying 5,000%. In the past decade, one-fifth of Africa’s elephant population has been killed. If we are not careful, within 20 years these magnificent creatures, and many others, will be extinct in the wild. This would be an ecological catastrophe, and would also have a profound effect on many communities and businesses that are dependent on income from nature-related tourism.
Fortunately, we still have time to prevent this disaster.
The United for Wildlife consortium of charities is committed to halting the trade in endangered and protected species. We are working with several international organizations to put a stop to poaching. Now I hope we can work with the air transport industry as well.
Twenty-six airlines, along with IATA, have already signed the Buckingham Palace declaration, pledging their support for our aims. IATA member airlines unanimously adopted a Resolution at the AGM in June, condemning the illegal wildlife trade. And IATA has been instrumental in helping set up workshops to raise awareness and educate front-line staff to spot smugglers in the act. The more airlines and airports that can join us in this work, the more powerful our deterrence activities will be. These criminal gangs are exploiting the incredible global aviation network, and it needs nothing short of a global coalition to find them and stop them.
To give an example, on a recent flight, traffickers were found to have gone through five different airports to avoid detection. They were caught, but we know that many others slip through the net. And it’s important to remember that smuggled animals also represent a safety threat to passengers and employees, and threaten disease outbreaks on a global scale. We all have a responsibility to protect our planet and its diverse ecology. I am aware of the important goals aviation has set for capping and reducing carbon emissions from civil air transport. This is to the industry’s credit and shows the power of aviation when it comes together as a force for good. Now I ask that airlines make the same commitment to our planet’s wildlife, to join us and help save our most precious animals for future generations to enjoy.