Saturday, August 20, 2016

Zoos ask travelers to photograph wildlife trafficking

Zoos ask travelers to photograph wildlife trafficking

San Diego Zoo Global has joined with zoos around the world in support of an international campaign to stop the massive and cruel illegal trade in wildlife—the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, after drugs, weapons and human trafficking. The global “Lend Your Eyes to the Wild” campaign encourages individuals to be the eyes and ears in the fight against wildlife trafficking.

In the past decade, wildlife trafficking has escalated into an international crisis, and it has become a multibillion-dollar-per-year global criminal activity. Wildlife trafficking includes the illegal activities of obtaining and selling live animals and plants, or parts of animals and plants, such as meat, ivory, horns, bones, teeth, fur, skin, wood, leaves, feathers and shells. Illegal wildlife and related products are sold to people as exotic pets; exotic food; items for adornment and display; items to show off wealth or status; or as remedies for ailments that have no proven effectiveness.

“San Diego Zoo Global is in the business of ending extinction; combating illegal wildlife trafficking is an important part of meeting that goal,” stated Randy Rieches, curator of mammals, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Tragically, animals and plant species are being killed or taken from the wild in epic proportions, decimating their populations and affecting ecosystems.”

The “Lend Your Eyes to the Wild” campaign encourages travelers to Southeast Asia to report illegal wildlife trade activities they may observe in markets, in shops or at airports, through the use of Wildlife Witness, a free app that can be downloaded on iPhones and Android devices. The app—developed by Taronga Zoo in Australia in conjunction with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network—allows individuals to take a photo, “pin” the exact location of an incident and send these important details to TRAFFIC. The information received is then routed to the proper legal authorities capable of arresting and prosecuting those engaged in the trade. The app user who identifies the illegal wildlife trafficking situation remains anonymous throughout the process.

“Our partnership with TRAFFIC and the Taronga Zoo in supporting this mobile app is another way to raise awareness for the plight of endangered wildlife,” said Rieches. “We can’t do this alone; we need everyone’s help.”

The demand for illegal wildlife products is prevalent in several countries. While China and Vietnam are two of the primary destinations for most trafficked goods, the U.S. is the second leading recipient of illegal ivory, with California and New York key wildlife trafficking ports of entry and consumer markets.

At the state level, San Diego Zoo Global supported California becoming the third U.S. state to ban the sale of ivory with the passage of Assembly Bill 96, which was broadened to outlaw the sale of rhino horn, as well. Nationally, San Diego Zoo Global has formed a Wildlife Trafficking Task Force (WTTF), in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement agencies and conservation organizations to help stop wildlife trafficking. San Diego Zoo Global is also called upon to take care of plants and animals that are confiscated at ports of entry like the U.S.-Mexico border and Los Angeles International Airport.
Worldwide, San Diego Zoo Global is leading and inspiring wildlife protection, working on more than 140 projects in nearly 80 countries.

At the current rate of poaching, animals including elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolins and some species of turtles are expected to disappear from the wild within 10 to 30 years. Tens of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory tusks in the past five years by poachers in Africa—including 85,000 just in Tanzania. In 2015, more than 1,200 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa alone; the majority of those were white rhinos.

Since the Wildlife Witness app launched in May, incidents referred to law enforcement agencies have resulted in more than 1,200 important pieces of intelligence and helped authorities take action against more than 500 people involved in global wildlife trade. For more information, and to download the Wildlife Witness app, visit

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.
(From Press Release)

Peter Dickinson
Independent International Zoo Consultant

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