On World Wildlife Day, Major Companies Pledge To Crack Down On Wildlife Trafficking

In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, illegally trafficked leopard and tiger heads stored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement fill the shelves of a warehouse inside the National Wildlife Property Repository in Commerce City, Colo. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BRENNAN LINSLEY

In honor of World Wildlife day, several companies made commitments Thursday to crack down on wildlife trafficking and help educate consumers on the dangers trafficking poses to animals around the world.

The commitments were made by 16 companies that have teamed up with the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA), a coalition created by the Obama administration last summer. The companies represent a variety of sectors, including jewelry, online commerce, and retail.

Many of the companies — including Google, Etsy, and JetBlue — have pledged to ramp up efforts to educate consumers about wildlife trafficking and how to avoid trafficked products. That’s a crucial part of the effort to stop animals being killed for their hides, tusks, shells, or other parts, said David Hayes, Chair of USWTA. He pointed to commitments from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Bronx Zoo, which pledged Thursday to provide educational materials to zoos and aquariums and to work to develop an exhibit on illegal wildlife products. JetBlue Airlines is also creating a video on wildlife trafficking — and the products, such as ivory or rhino horns, that it produces — that the company will show on flights to help teach travelers what to avoid when they’re buying products in other regions.

“A lot of it is lack of awareness,” Hayes told ThinkProgress of the demand for wildlife products in the United States. “Consumers don’t get much information about what’s legal and what’s not.” And, he said, the fact that the United States is a wealthy country doesn’t hurt — “we have a lot of consumers that can buy a lot of things. We’re such a major economic force in the world that there’s an opportunity here that the traffickers can exploit.”

We’re such a major economic force in the world that there’s an opportunity here that the traffickers can exploit

Other companies have also pledged to ramp up education campaigns — Etsy, for instance, committed to alert its merchants to wildlife product policies via pop-up texts, and to train their employees to identify items being sold on the site that could come from trafficked animals. EBay made similar commitments, and bidding platform LiveAuctioneers.com pledged to crack down on illegal products. That commitment is key, Hayes said, because platforms like LiveAuctioneers are common places where traffickers will try to sell illegal products.

These major companies have also pledged to share information and best practices with smaller companies.

“That’s probably where the problem is, honestly,” Hayes said of these smaller companies. “You don’t expect to buy ivory at Tiffany’s — you can’t. But there are many thousands of smaller companies” that could benefit from the leadership of these larger entities.

The Obama administration has been cracking down on wildlife trade in recent years. In addition to forming the USWTA, the administration launched an anti-poaching task force in 2013, and Obama proposed a ban on ivory sales across state lines and restrictions on commercial exports last July. The United States and China signed an agreement banning the import and export of ivory last September.

A 2014 study found that 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012 — killings that are driven by poachers’ desire for ivory. In 2014, 1,215 rhinos, which are hunted for their horns, were poached in South Africa alone. Trafficking, a multi-billion dollar industry, is also driven by demand for exotic pets, traditional medicines, and certain foods, and impacts a wide range of animals, including tigers, wild birds, and turtles. And trafficking is contributing to what one 2015 study called a human-caused mass extinction that’s happening now on the planet. Climate change, pollution, and habitat loss are also contributing.

The commitments from companies, Hayes said, are important because many of them aren’t limited to the United States — they have global footprints.

“The U.S. is not the only major market — China, and Southeast Asia, and Europe to some extent also are very important markets,” he said. “I’m very hopeful it will influence other businesses around the world to do the same.”