Airports Council International (ACI), the global trade representative of the world’s airport authorities, has said that airports can play a crucial role in disrupting illegal wildlife trafficking activities aimed at moving ivory, rhino horn, reptiles, birds, pangolins, marine products, and mammals across the world.

Figures from a recent report titled ‘In Plane Sight: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector’, which was published by C4ADS as part of the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership, revealed that wildlife traffickers are highly dependent on air transportation systems to smuggle endangered animals.

According to the report, large hub airports across the world, including Hong Kong, Johannesburg and Dubai, are used to move around 81% of global trafficked wildlife. The study found trafficking instances in at least 136 countries, fuelling a black market that is thought to be worth $20bn a year.

Having registered a 300% increase in rhino horns seizures between 2016 and 2017, and expecting similar figures for other types of wildlife trafficking, the ROUTES Partnership has launched a series of initiatives aimed at raising awareness of the problem, as well as tackling the issue.

Welcoming the move, ACI senior management of environment Juliana Scavuzzi told Airport Technology: “As the world becomes more interconnected, traffickers are increasingly abusing transport systems to move their products quickly and securely. During the journey from source to market, airports may be used in the transit.

“It is crucial that airport users and staff are aware and vigilant and there are ways that they can report observations. This provides airports with an important opportunity to play their role in preventing wildlife trafficking.

“ACI is committed to developing a framework to fight wildlife trafficking, and support our members with their efforts.”

Scavuzzi added that the organisation is engaging with the aviation industry to fight against the use of its global connectivity as an enabler of wildlife trafficking. In 2016, ACI committed to the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration, a campaign that unites the world’s leading wildlife charities to create a global movement for change.

She said: “ACI is dedicated to developing a practical framework towards this goal, including cooperation with international initiatives such as the ROUTES Partnership.”