We are in danger of losing the battle with wildlife poachers

They were imported from Nigeria, labelled as cashew nuts. Vietnamese authorities intercepted the shipment en route to Cambodia. Three tons. The previous week they’d uncovered a haul weighing four tons.

Do you know which species is the world’s most trafficked? It’s not elephant. Or rhino. It’s not tiger either.

It’s the pangolin.

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These days some 7000 species are victims of animal poaching. Speaking at the WTTC Global Summit in Buenos Aires recently, John E. Scanlon, Special Envoy, African Parks described poaching as ‘at an industrial scale’.

That’s certainly the case for the pangolin. Those seven tons found in Vietnam in just two weeks probably amounted to over 20,000 animals. The numbers are stark for many species. Last year 1300 rhino were poached in Africa from a population of just 25,000. Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed illegally in Africa.

We’re in danger of losing the battle against wildlife poaching. We need to act faster and be more concerted in our efforts. Whilst it certainly can’t stop the scourge of poaching on its own, the Travel & Tourism Sector can play an important role in combatting it.

At the WTTC Global Summit a new Declaration on Travel & Tourism and Illegal Wildlife Trade was a rallying cry for all players in the industry to come together and act. It set out a series of high level actions the sector can take to address the challenge.

The declaration consists of four pillars:

1. Expression and demonstration of agreement to tackle the illegal wildlife trade

The declaration is the starting point. By committing to do whatever they can to combat poaching, the signatories hold themselves open to account. Hilton, Tui, Ctrip, Abercrombie and Kent, AIG and many others have signed. More are coming forward. Current signatories must encourage others to sign up. Of course this commitment needs to be tangible, feeding through to the way signatories conduct their businesses, how they train their staff and how they talk to customers.

2. Promotion of responsible wildlife-based tourism

Where T&T sector companies are organising wildlife tourism, they need to consider the protection of the species they’re dealing with and actively look for ways to ensure it. This could be in the form of ploughing some profits back into anti-poaching measures. It could also be educating local communities about the value of keeping rare wildlife alive or finding ways to improve and protect the habitat of the species and encourage growth in numbers

3. Awareness raising among customers, staff and trade networks

Pressure from the public is potentially one of the most powerful tools available to stop poaching. Ultimately, it needs the determination of governments working together to cut off supply and reduce demand. T&T sector companies can educate their customers and send them home fired up to join campaigns, spread the word and pressure politicians to act. Staff are the educators and they need to be trained and to be imbued with a sense of mission. Staff too are on the ground and most likely to see suspicious activity taking place. They need to feel empowered to report it. They need to be trained to know what to look for. Customers also need to be informed about the risks of accidentally purchasing souvenirs made with illegal animal products, like ivory in particular.

4. Engaging with local communities and investing locally

As Darrell Wade, Founder of Intrepid Travel said at the Summit: “We need to get local people to see wildlife as more valuable alive than dead.”

Developing wildlife tourism in conjunction with the communities around it is essential to long term success both for the project itself and the survival of the species. This isn’t simply about protecting the wildlife. It’s also about ensuring the community derives tangible value from it too. The most sustainable and successful wildlife tourism projects employ locals, purchase supplies from local producers and plough profits back into community support programmes like education and infrastructure development. Local communities need to feel invested in the protection of wildlife and they need to understand that its protection is vital for their livelihoods.

There are success stories amidst the gloomy statistics. Nepal’s one-horned rhino population has almost doubled in the last decade with frequent years where no poaching has taken place at all. Black rhino have been successfully reintroduced to Chad. Sumatra’s tiger population is increasing. But many of the species remain on the brink and we all have a role to play in trying to combat the poaching of wild animals.

Read more: The WTTC Travel & Tourism Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade

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