As the nations of the world gathered to agree on the set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, protecting life on land was rightly seen as a crucial goal. A major obstacle to achieving this aim is the burgeoning illegal trade in wildlife, which is estimated to be worth up to $10 billion per year.
Transnational criminal gangs are exploiting the modern air transport system to traffic protected plants and animals (both living and dead), then selling them on through the black market.
To help combat this illegal trade, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working with its airline members, as well as other sectors of the aviation industry, to raise awareness on the issue and assist where they can. While the duty for apprehending and prosecuting these criminals lies with national enforcement authorities, airline staff can be a valuable asset in providing information to the authorities, leading to greater intelligence.
In June 2015, IATA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), signalling their strong cooperation. Since then, IATA has been helping to organise awareness training for airline staff and has set up a Wildlife Task Force, which is responsible for identifying and reviewing emerging wildlife conservation issues and developing an appropriate response.
The response from airlines has been commendable, with Kenya Airways hosting a training workshop in Nairobi and Emirates adorning one of its A380s with wildlife livery to raise awareness. Now that this issue is firmly on the table, airlines will be better equipped to deal with this sort of criminal activity.
Airports, too, have signalled their commitment to protecting wildlife. In March 2016, Airports Council International, alongside IATA, signed the United for Wildlife declaration. This agreement sets out real steps to close the routes exploited by traffickers of the illegal wildlife trade as they move their products from killing field to marketplace.