Airlines co opted in fight against illegal trade in wildlife

The representative body of the global aviation industry, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate on reducing illegal trade in wildlife and their products, as well as on ensuring the safe and secure transport of legally traded wildlife.

Under this MoU, IATA and CITES will have a formal framework for their ongoing cooperation on the implementation of standards and best practices such as the IATA Live Animals Regulations, the IATA Perishable Cargo Regulations, and the CITES Guidelines for the Non-Air Transport of Live Wild Animals and Plants. They will also support joint training and communications activities.

CITES is a legally-binding agreement with 181 states-parties, setting the rules for international wildlife trade in more than 35,000 species of animals and plants.

Over recent years, there has been a surge in the illegal trade of wildlife and their products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, and rare timber, with many smugglers misusing the complex international aviation system to evade customs and other enforcement agencies.

''CITES and IATA have long cooperated to ensure that legitimately-traded animals and plants are carried as safely and comfortably as possible," said Tony Tyler, IATA's director general and CEO. "This MOU formalises our work programs."

"The responsibility for enforcement of the rules governing international wildlife trade is clearly with governments. But well-trained airline staff can be an invaluable source of information on suspicious passenger behaviour and unusual shipments. Airlines are good corporate citizens. Our collaboration with CITES will help the industry to play a role in stopping the terrible scourge of illegal trade in wildlife that threatens some of the most precious animal and plant life on our planet,'' Tyler added.

John E Scanlon, the secretary-general of CITES, who addressed the IATA annual general meeting on Monday, added, ''We live in an interconnected world where the great benefits of global air transport are also being abused by criminals to transport illegally traded wildlife. IATA and its member airlines can play a critical role in assisting customs and other enforcement agencies by gathering valuable intelligence of suspicious activities and raising awareness among customers, passengers, and staff of the devastating impacts of this illegal trade.

"The illegal trade is carried out by vast  networks of transnational organised criminals, and in some cases rebel militia and rouge elements of the military, which are driving industrial scale poaching and illegal trade for illicit off shore markets. 

"The profound impact this poaching and illegal trade is having upon entire species and ecosystems and the services they provide, local peoples and their livelihoods, national economies, and national and regional security is now increasingly well recognised. We warmly welcome the strengthening of our collaboration with IATA to address guidelines and standards for legal trade and to now extend our collaboration to combatting illegal trade in wildlife.''