Cape Town - Members of International Air Transport Association (IATA) have signed a declaration aimed at reducing the illegal trafficking of wildlife and underlining the aviation industry’s commitment to sustainability.
IATA says the interconnected air transport network is being exploited by criminal gangs to smuggle animals or their products from the killing field to the market place.
Through the declaration the air transport industry is pledging its help to stop this trade by providing additional intelligence to enforcement authorities about suspicious shipments - with the initial focus of action on the trafficking of high-risk protected animals, specifically certain big cats, pangolins, and ivory products, on high-risk routes, particularly originating from or transiting through East Africa.
The last decade has seen a dramatic surge in wildlife trafficking, with more than 20 000 elephants and over 1 200 rhino killed in Africa 2015 alone and that's just considering two species.
“I can think of few other causes that galvanize more interest and support across the global transport and logistics sectors than the challenge of wildlife trafficking, said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
The ‘United for Wildlife’ initiative, created by the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, invited representatives of the transport industry to Buckingham Palace to pledge their support.
IATA, Airports Council International, the African Airlines Association and a number of individual airlines signed commitments aimed at raising awareness of the trafficking issue among passengers, and training staff to recognize and report suspicious packages and behaviour.
IATA committed to playing an active role in reducing illegal trafficking of wildlife, with "collaboration in support of government enforcement authorities to put an end to this evil trade".
Cooperation with enforcement authorities and international conservation organizations such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has already begun, Tyler confirmed
"Two awareness-raising workshops for airline and airport staff have been held at international airports in Nairobi and Bangkok.
In addition, IATA joined the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership. New guidance material for airlines has been published, and an IATA Environment Committee Wildlife Taskforce has been set up to monitor progress and provide advice on the next steps."
At the Beginning of March the European Union also tool a bold step in combating wildlife trafficking with the by adopting an anti-wildlife crime action plan at an EU conference in the Hague.
Even though the EU has strict rules for trading endangered species, known as the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which requires all 28 Member States to ensure that illegal wildlife trade is considered a criminal offence in their national law, there are great differences in the level of implementation and enforcement of these instruments, especially among central and eastern European countries - leaving potential loopholes for exploitation by poachers and traffickers. However the wildlife crime action plan, made up of 32 measures to be carried out between now and 2020 - with the first point immediately adopted being to regard wildlife trafficking as a grave and serious crime. This means convicted poachers, smugglers and illegal trophy hunters will now face prison sentences of at least four years.
Added to this December 2015, the US extended its Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions, although not making it illegal for hunters to hunt lions, hunters would have to go through a lot more work to take the animal trophies back to the United States. The US is South Africa's biggest market for lion trophy hunting.
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