“It Doesn’t Fly with Us”: New campaign sees aviation industry stepping up
to protect threatened wildlife
Michelle Owen, International Airport Review
July 19, 2021
for photos & related resources.
Poaching through a Pandemic
Reports of wildlife seizures over the course of 2020 have revealed that,
despite restricted travel, traffickers are still taking opportunities to
smuggle contraband through the air transport system. But, although these
reports highlight continued illicit activity, they also demonstrate
successful law enforcement and highlight that, when aviation companies and
law enforcement work together, illegal supply chains can be disrupted.
In recent years, awareness of wildlife trafficking through airports has
grown more and more and, with it, the number of aviation companies that are
realising their potential to be part of the solution.
Much of this critical action has been facilitated by guidance and resources
from specialised partnerships; in particular, the USAID Reducing
Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES)
Partnership and United for Wildlife (UFW) Transport Taskforce, established
by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Now, ROUTES and UFW have joined together to launch a new campaign designed
to boost these efforts: Step Up to Stop Wildlife Trafficking.
ROUTES and UFW launched a comparable campaign in 2019 called Spring Into
Action, which rallied airports and airlines to take five steps to
strengthen their action against wildlife trafficking.
Then, of course, in 2020, the aviation industry was dealt a heavy blow with
the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies were left suffering from probably the
worst economic impact event that the industry has witnessed but, although
air transport came to a halt, wildlife crime did not.
In fact, in some areas, wildlife criminals found ways to benefit from the
situation. For example, the lack of tourism in Africa during international
lockdowns led to budget cuts for protected areas. This led to decreased
protected area patrols and reports of poachers taking advantage of the
opportunity to strike. Now, with the resumption of air travel, wildlife
traffickers are once again taking to the skies.
As the industry begins to find its feet (or, rather, its wings),
strengthening defences against wildlife trafficking is one of many ways in
which some airports are hoping to ‘build back better’.
The Step Up Campaign
The Step Up campaign has two primary purposes: to highlight how companies
across the industry are striving to help to end wildlife trafficking and to
inspire companies to ramp up their efforts.
The campaign guide suggests actions that companies can take through the
steps of ‘Set Up’, ‘Show Up’, ‘Speak Up’ and ‘Follow Up’, suitable for a
range of company capacities and regardless of how far along they are in the
journey of equipping themselves against this illicit trade. Companies are
encouraged, and directed, to resources that can be used to hold
awareness-raising events, conduct training sessions and/or carry out
wildlife trafficking risk assessments.
The campaign slogan “It Doesn’t Fly With Us” sends a clear message to
wildlife traffickers that their crimes will not be tolerated.
In 2019, Seymour Airport (GPS) in the Galapagos Islands signed the UFW
Buckingham Palace Declaration. Jorge Rosillo, CEO at Seymour Airport,
details some of the ways in which they are stepping up to address the
commitments of the declaration:
“In 2021, with the support of ROUTES and TRAFFIC, we are delivering a
training programme to airport and cargo staff and will also create
awareness about wildlife trade in the cargo zone, arrivals and departures
“We at Seymour Airport are aware of the worldwide illegal wildlife trade,
especially in vulnerable places like the Galapagos Islands. We, as
airports, should fight against wildlife trafficking, and we are doing it
with greats results,” Rosillo continued.
Indeed, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), as a whole, holds 40 per
cent of the world’s biodiversity. Whilst this makes it a fantastic
destination for wildlife lovers and adventurers, it also renders it an
attractive target to poachers.
For this reason, ROUTES, with the support of USAID, ramped up its
engagement with the LAC region, including the release of its Taking Off
report, which offers detailed analyses of wildlife trafficking trends in
LAC’s aviation industry.
ROUTES’ resources, including training materials, have been translated into
Spanish and Portuguese, and a series of webinars aimed at aviation
companies in the LAC are being held. The final webinar in the series is due
to take place in July 2021.
As well as airports, it is vital that airlines, too, are part of the
solution, and many have stepped up to the task. The Association of Asia
Pacific Airlines (AAPA) is encouraging its members to combat the illegal
“We are committed to addressing the problem of international wildlife
trafficking and are doing our part to upgrade vigilance, as well as flight
security, against such activities,” said AAPA’s Director General, Subhas
Airline staff spend more time with passengers than customs officers and,
thus, have this extra potential to identify suspicious behaviours that
could indicate a wildlife trafficking attempt. Qatar Airways is another
airline that has taken significant steps in addressing the issue and is
joining in with the campaign.
“Wildlife trafficking is a global concern for aviation, and Qatar Airways
maintains a policy of zero tolerance towards the illegal transportation of
wildlife and their products throughout its network. As we remain dedicated
to delivering our commitment, we continue to raise employee and passenger
awareness of illegal wildlife transportation,” said Esmir Ganic, Head of
Aeropolitical and Corporate Affairs at Qatar Airways.
“The recent campaign guide from ROUTES has provided us with information
that will be used in our ongoing efforts to address the illegal wildlife
In the Spotlight
To further celebrate some of its partners that are embracing the work and
taking big steps to protect wildlife, ROUTES launched a Partner Spotlight
video series over the month of June 2021, tied in with the campaign. The
videos offer an overview of illegal wildlife trade and the risks that it
poses, and champion the people taking action behind the scenes at airports
to prevent illicit wildlife products from taking flight.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) is the Chair of Airports Council
International’s (ACI) Wildlife Trafficking Task Force and one of the five
partners that are featured in the Spotlight Series. CEO and President of
Royal Schiphol Group, Dick Benschop, understands the urgent need for
airports to get involved: “As one of the world’s largest aviation hubs, we
can, and will, work to prevent and fight this problem.”
Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) is also featured for its active commitment
to addressing illegal wildlife trade. Their establishment of a courthouse
at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) allows wildlife crime cases to
be heard with minimal delays and risks of evidence interference and sees
traffickers convicted on site.
The full Spotlight Series is now available to watch on the ROUTES website.
A Global Problem Requires Global Action
The adaptability and resourcefulness of wildlife criminals necessitate a
global, collaborative response and all relevant parties doing what they can
to address the issue. Ultimately, the detection and disruption of wildlife
trafficking is the responsibility of enforcement agencies, so it is
commendable to see so many airlines and airports recognising their
opportunity to assist in this crucial work. All airports and other aviation
stakeholders are encouraged to investigate the campaign and other ROUTES
and UFW resources, and consider how they can join the movement to stop the
trafficking of endangered wildlife.