Together let’s stop the $23 billion illegal wildlife industry

The world is facing an unparalleled spike in the illegal trade of wildlife, which is effectively endangering over 7,000 species in 120 countries around the globe. This multi-billion-dollar industry cannot be ignored. It is the fourth most lucrative global crime, valued between $7 billion and $23 billion annually. What’s more, only 3% of this revenue trickles down to the local communities.

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 100 million sharks are killed every year
  • 90% of African elephants have been killed in the last 100 years
  • Africa’s giraffe population has decreased by 40% in the past 15 years
  • More than 1 million pangolins have been trafficked in the past decade
  • More than 3,000 great apes are captured or killed each year
  • In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhinos. In 2014, they lost 1,215 — an increase of over 9,000%.

Wildlife trafficking cannot be dismissed; it is driving species to extinction. This issue is not only important at the environmental and social level but also economically. While wildlife tourism is not the be-all solution to wildlife trafficking, it does highlight the value of these incredible species.

For instance, the tourism value of a shark over its lifetime in the Galapagos is $5.4 million, while a dead shark brings in less than $200. Interestingly, the whale watching industry generated over $2.1 billion and employed 13,000 in 2008, while bird-watching in the US had an annual economic value of $32 billion in 2012. Travel & Tourism has become, for many of these communities, their primary livelihood.

In Plane Sight

Yet this illicit industry continues to grow, enabled by today’s increasing global connectivity, from our financial system to our transportation networks. Given the critical role of the airline industry, IATA has taken a leadership role over the past years, through collaboration with governments and conversation authorities, to fight against the traffickers of protected species. The recently-published In Plane Sight report analyses nine years’ worth of data, revealing the high dependence of wildlife traffickers on air transportation systems. The report highlights the top 10 countries by number of trafficking instances between 2009 and 2017.

To eradicate illegal wildlife trade, we need global commitment and collaboration. Many players are stepping up.

In 2015, the United Nations passed a specific resolution to combat wildlife trafficking and have included specific targets in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Led by the World Travel & Tourism Council, over 100 of the biggest brands in Travel & Tourism have committed to a coordinated response to crush the illegal wildlife trade, by signing the Buenos Aires Declaration in April 2018. To take this commitment forward, WTTC is partnering with WWF (the World Wildlife Fund) to drive industry action and to deliver digital technologies that will counter illegal trafficking. The objective: to change the behaviour of over 1 billion travellers.

What else do you think the Travel & Tourism sector can do to combat the Illegal Trade of Wildlife?


This post was written by Tiffany Misrahi, Director of Policy, World Travel & Tourism Council.