Report finds widespread wildlife trafficking at airports across 114 countries, including Heathrow
In June 2016 officials discovered 142 kg of ivory in six suitcases in Charles de Gaulle Airport. All six bags belonged to one passenger who was traveling from Angola to Vietnam through Paris. A new analysis – by C4ADS – of global airport wildlife seizure and trafficking data reveals that criminals are exploiting air transport to smuggle protected and endangered animals and animal products on commercial flights. The report, “Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector,” analyses airport seizures of ivory, rhino horn, birds and reptiles from January 2009 to August 2016. Wildlife traffickers moving ivory, rhino horn, reptiles and birds by air tend to rely on large hub airports all over the world. Overall, 114 countries had at least one instance of wildlife trafficking in the air transport sector during the period covered by the report. Some of these, especially of reptiles and birds, involve European airports. The report says creating awareness among personnel and passengers, training air industry staff, strengthening enforcement seizure protocols and reporting and sharing seizure information, could cut the numbers. In the UK, Heathrow is the main place that illegally trafficked wildlife products travel through. The illegal trade seriously threatens many species, and is a high profit enterprise.
Report finds widespread wildlife trafficking at airports across 114 Countries
24th May 2017 (Air Cargo News)
June 2016: Officials discovered 142 kg of ivory in six suitcases in Charles de Gaulle Airport. All six bags belonged to one passenger who was traveling from Angola to Vietnam through Paris.
A new analysis of global airport wildlife seizure and trafficking data reveals that criminals are exploiting air transport to smuggle protected and endangered animals and animal products on commercial flights.
The report, “Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector,” analyses airport seizures of ivory, rhino horn, birds and reptiles from January 2009 to August 2016.
Collectively, these four categories account for about 66% of all trafficked wildlife, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and serve as indicators for wider trends within illicit wildlife trafficking.
The illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth largest black market in the world—worth in the region of $20bn annually—and impacts more than 7,000 species of animals and plants. Criminal organisations involved in wildlife trafficking are often directly connected to other trafficking networks, including the smuggling of narcotics, arms and people.
The seizure data in the survey indicates that wildlife traffickers moving ivory, rhino horn, reptiles and birds by air tend to rely on large hub airports all over the world.
According to the report, the country with the most reports of wildlife trafficking in the air transport sector was China — largely due to its role in the ivory trade — followed by Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
The US ranked tenth by number of air seizures. Overall, 114 countries had at least one instance of wildlife trafficking in the air transport sector during the period covered by the report.
Ivory and rhino horn trafficking routes appear fairly concentrated in Africa and Asia, although the products often transit through countries in the Middle East and Europe. Reptile and bird trafficking routes, by contrast, appear geographically diverse, with concentrations in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.
The study was produced by C4ADS as part of the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership.
Michelle Owen, the ROUTES Partnership lead, said: “This analysis provides a global perspective on what many in the airline industry are already seeing at the regional level: transport infrastructure is being abused to facilitate the trafficking of wildlife.
“There are a variety of low-cost and high-impact solutions available that airports and airlines can take to help address this issue. ROUTES is developing resources to raise awareness and build capacity within the air transport sector, and to support leaders within the transport industry who have made commitments to assist with tackling wildlife trafficking.”
Flying Under the Radar outlines more than a dozen data-based recommendations for preventing wildlife trafficking through the air transport sector. These include creating awareness among personnel and passengers, training air industry staff, strengthening enforcement seizure protocols and reporting and sharing seizure information.
“Wildlife seizure data is vital to identifying, understanding and combatting wildlife trafficking in airports around the world,” says author Mary Utermohlen from C4ADS.
“Still, it’s important to recognise that seizure data of any kind only provides a partial window into the true nature of trafficking activity. What seizures can’t show are the patterns and routes associated with trafficking activity that is not detected, seized or reported by enforcement authorities.”
Jon Godson, assistant director of environment at IATA, said: “Airlines are rarely informed if there has been a wildlife seizure from a passenger or cargo shipment carried by their aircraft. Data like this can demonstrate not only high risk routes, species and concealment methods but also the truly global nature of this exploitation.”
Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector
The USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership and C4ADS have released a new report, Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector, which analyzes ivory, rhino horn, reptile and bird seizures in the air transport sector. The report reveals the widespread exploitation of the air transport sector by wildlife trafficking networks and presents more than a dozen data-based recommendations for preventing wildlife trafficking through the air transport industry.
The WWF report is at
including mentions of Heathrow, and maps illustrating the routes of various illegal wildlife commodities, like ivory, rhino horn, reptiles etc.
Significant seizure of elephant ivory at Heathrow Airport
Border Force has described the haul as one of the biggest that has been found in the UK, totalling 110kg.
However, every piece of ivory comes from dead elephants, and the demand for ivory to make ornaments and decorative trinkets is pushing elephants to the brink of extinction.
The seized ivory at Heathrow Airport, which included raw elephant tusks along with carved bangles and beads, was discovered in baggage left abandoned at Terminal 4 in transit from Angola on its way to Hanover in Germany in October.
The items were taken away and examined by specialists who confirmed that the products were ivory.
The trade in ivory is strictly controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Items are only legally allowed to be brought in to or exported out of the EU if the correct permits have been issued.
UK Director of IFAW, Philip Mansbridge, said: “Border Force officers are to be congratulated for their work in seizing this ivory, which represents a number of dead elephants. Horrifyingly about one elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes in Africa.
“The illegal ivory trade is not only a serious organised crime but a modern-day tragedy for elephants in the wild. Many ivory buyers are unaware of the terrible cruelty and devastating conservation impacts of elephant poaching and I urge people never to buy ivory products.”
Phil Douglas, Director, Border Force Heathrow said: “This is one of the largest seizures of its kind made in the UK and it demonstrates the vigilance of our officers. The illicit trade in animal products like ivory is a serious contributory factor in the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species and that is why the rules around it are so strict.
“Border Force takes its role in preventing illegal wildlife trafficking very seriously and, working together with our partners in the UK and internationally, we are determined to bring it to an end.”
The National Crime Agency will now continue investigations into this ivory seizure.
In a separate development, authorities in Vietnam have confirmed a seizure of 860 kgs of ivory. This is the fifth large-scale ivory bust in Vietnam in the last four months.
According to IFAW’s report Criminal Nature, increasing levels of illegal wildlife trade fuels poaching and trafficking, both of which rank alongside global arms, human and drug trafficking as serious organised crimes.
IFAW works to address all the links in the ivory chain; from anti-poaching activities, participating in ivory destruction events, working with enforcers to target wildlife criminals and educating consumers about the cruelty and impact of the illegal wildlife trade.
The IFAW report, Criminal Nature: The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade, documents the threat the illegal trade poses to animals like elephants and rhinos, and also people.
To learn more about the illegal ivory trade, download IFAW’s digital magazine Unveiling the Ivory Trade.
CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (also known as the Washington Convention) www.cites.org
The Heathrow-based Border Force CITES team is made up of specialist officers who work closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), National Crime Agency and police to provide expert advice on border operational issues.
“Wildlife Crime in the United Kingdom” – by the European Parliament
The UK has a substantial role in illegal wildlife trade as a transit and destination country and a wide range of species are affected by the illegal trade.
• The number of seizures is high; between 2009 and 2014 the UK Border Forces made 2 853 seizures in total5 . A significant portion of seizures are made at Heathrow Airport.
The number of criminal prosecutions varies by year. For instance between 2013 and 2014, 18 criminal prosecution cases took place.
• Apart from wildlife trafficking other crimes against endangered species is also a concern in the UK. Poaching is the most common wildlife crime in the UK, while other common types of wildlife crimes include badger persecution6 , bat persecution and raptor persecution.
• Links between wildlife crime and organised crime groups have been identified in the UK, particularly in relation to rhino horn thefts and trade, to trade in raptors and bird eggs, and to the repeated sale of traditional medicine products. Some 19 organised crime groups are currently identified in the UK with the involvement of 134 individuals mainly linked to poaching, raptor persecution and other CITES related illegal wildlife trade.
In 2014, thirteen San Salvador rock iguanas were seized at Heathrow Airport in, out of which twelve were repatriated to the Bahamas and one died.
In 2013, two major seizures took place at Heathrow Airport of ‘Red Sandalwoods’ which were in transit from New Delhi to Hong Kong.
In February 2015, according to a press release of the UK Border Forces12, a large number of endangered geckos were seized at Heathrow. The 165 turquoise dwarf geckos were imported from Tanzania. Within the same consignment 36 bearded pygmy chameleons, 112 peacock tree frogs, 192 whip scorpions and 66 yellowheaded geckos were also found.
The large number of seizures at Heathrow Airport shows a geographical hub of illicit wildlife trade actions. Nevertheless, trade in illegal wildlife is also facilitated by postal services. Even though the CITES biennial reports provide a detailed overview of the number of seizures made by UK authorities in 2015, significant changes have also been made to the UK national statistics in order to provide an overview of wildlife crime at the national level.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) within the UK Police Force and the UK Border Forces’ specialised CITES team based at Heathrow Airport play an important role tackling wildlife crime in the UK. The NWCU’s aim is to collect intelligence from a wide range of organisation on wildlife crime and to assist the Police force via the dissemination of this information.
This in-depth analysis showed that the illegal trade of wildlife and other wildlife crimes are a significant problem in the UK. With regards to wildlife trafficking, the UK is primarily a transit and destination country and a wide range of species are affected. The number of seizures is high, many of which take place at Heathrow Airport.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) within the UK Police Force and the UK Border Forces specialised CITES team based at Heathrow Airport play an important role in tackling wildlife crime. Furthermore, the UK Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW UK), a multi-agency group comprising representatives of statutory bodies and NGOs involved in wildlife law enforcement in the UK, is also a key player. Finally, national and international NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the World Society for the Protection of the Animals (WSPA) also contribute to ending wildlife crime in the UK and to raising awareness of the issue. .