Combat Wildlife Trafficking by Traveling Responsibly
A coalition of more than 80 zoos, aquariums, and non-profit organizations, the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) aims to prevent and reduce incidents of illegal wildlife trade. A core aspect of the WTA’s mission is to educate the public on the extent of the wildlife trafficking crisis, as well as how they can make responsible choices when traveling.
Travelers abroad have many opportunities to engage in practices that rely on wildlife trafficking. For example, some attractions offering interactions or photos with animals may obtain their animals from the wild. Travelers should select tourism experiences that do not negatively impact animal welfare.
Typically, these facilities have accreditation or approval from conservation or government agencies.
Tourists should inquire about the supply chain for any souvenirs they purchase. For example, wood products should come from ethically and sustainably harvested wood, as illegal deforestation destroys animal habitats and contributes to illegal wildlife trafficking.
Avoid purchasing any products made from the skin, leather, bone, or fur of endangered or exotic animals. Even if the purchase is legal, items made from exotic feathers, shells, tusks, or other animal byproducts encourage illegal poaching. Legal markets help maintain a demand for products made from vulnerable species, which encourages exploitation and transnational criminal networks.
Consumers should ask what each item is made of and where each product came from, as well as request documentation to verify the legal source. Travelers should inquire if the purchase is legal in the country they are visiting and whether they need a permit or other documents to bring the item into the United States.
In addition to shopping responsibly, travelers can make eating choices that combat wildlife trafficking. Many adventurous travelers try exotic dishes such as shark fin soup or swallow nest soup out of curiosity. However, these dishes rely on unethical harvesting and decimate local populations of vulnerable and endangered species.
For example, the demand for shark fin soup results in approximately 73 million sharks being killed yearly. These sharks are killed for their fins alone, while the rest of the meat is discarded. To make ethical choices about seafood, travelers can consult the Good Fish Guide, which outlines how each seafood choice affects the environment. Other delicacies to avoid include tiger bone wine and exotic meats from monkeys, turtles, snakes, songbirds, salamander, and medicines made from animal products.
Illegal trafficking applies to coral and shells. Many countries forbid the collection of live coral and coral products, so travelers should consult authorities before purchasing jewelry or other items made of coral.
The import of queen conch shells from some Caribbean countries is illegal, so travelers should check with import authorities before purchasing. Because international sea turtle trade is prohibited, travelers should not buy jewelry or other tortoiseshell products. Without a permit, tourists may only import up to 125 grams (about 8 ounces) of sturgeon caviar per person per trip. Caviar that comes from species such as beluga is prohibited in any amount.
At home, travelers should support legislation that prevents and prosecutes wildlife trafficking. For example, in 2016, Congress passed the bipartisan Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (“END”) Wildlife Trafficking Act, which bolsters the work of the National Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.