How Travel and Tourism Can Help End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Yesterday we reported that Wild Tigers were in crisis throughout Southeast Asia.

Main picture wild elephants credit Mylon Ollia on Unsplash

Now the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has released major new guidelines outlining how the global Travel & Tourism sector can work together to tackle illegal wildlife trade (IWT).

IWT is the illegal exchange or sale of wild animal or plant resources including products made from these animals. According to WWF, IWT is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world. Approximately 20,000 African elephants are killed by poachers each year and around 55 African elephants are killed for their tusks every day. This needs to stop.

According to the guidelines, travellers often participate, albeit unwittingly, in the illicit movement of animals, plants, products made from them – and of wild species which are threatened, endangered, and protected by national or international law. 

Tourism thrives in every corner of the world. But the challenge is balancing tourism with fragile environments where wildlife is at risk and animals are held and exploited in captivity.

In Southeast Asia we see the sale of illegal products and also tourist activities that encourage IWT including the trade in live animals for public entertainment.

Juvenile animals, such as primates, are captured and smuggled overseas to be made available for opportunistic activities, such as souvenir photographs. Animals are also captured from the wild to maintain supply to growing, lucrative tourism activities, such
as elephant interactions, tiger parks, captive dolphin facilities, or ‘canned’ lion hunting. Some tourist attractions even breed and supply live animals for slaughter and sale.

juvenile monkey credit Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

As demand for the legal trade in wildlife and their products increases, so rises IWT. This illicit market is valued between a staggering US$8 billion and US$23 billion per year with over 38,000 plant and animal species threatened by overexploitation and extinction. Yet, wildlife is worth more alive than dead- requiring us to take action. 

The World Travel & Tourism Council and its Members are determined to help in the fight to eradicate the scourge of illegal trade in wildlife.

As a sector, Travel & Tourism has a responsibility to tackle this appalling activity which causes misery to countless animals, putting entire species and ecosystems at risk.

We believe these new guidelines will help businesses around the world in their fight against this corrupt and shameful practice and we renew and reinforce our commitment first made in WTTC’s game-changing Buenos Aires Declaration.

Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President WTTC

Unfortunately, widespread travel bans, and restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant decrease in funding for conservation efforts and an increase in poaching activities. Anti-poaching programmes have been starved of funds over the past 18 months.

We live on this amazing planet with some incredible wildlife; we have the responsibility, and honour, to protect and support all the lives that call the Earth home. But, too many of our wildlife species are endangered, critically endangered, or extinct. Activities like Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) have been immense contributors to these declining numbers which is why we all need to do our part to end IWT.

Pangolin credit Wildlife Alliance on flickr

Each traveller, no matter how many trips they take, has a role to play in protecting and preserving our wildlife, including being careful of what they buy. It’s not just that ivory ring you saw in the curio shop, it could be a turtle shell hair clip, food and even certain pharmaceuticals. As demand for these “exotic” items increases the animal populations exploited to make these products rapidly decrease.

Read and learn

As responsible travellers, we should educate ourselves on endangered wildlife populations and illegal products. We can lean on resources like the IUCN red list of threatened species, which details the global extinction risk status of animals, plants, and fungi. Simply search a species name (like African elephant) to see its extinction status and learn more about it.

There is also CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). It is an international agreement between governments “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.” While CITES is more at a governmental level, it is good to know such agreements exist and that suppliers may need a CITES permit to manufacture and sell certain items.

Rhino credit Ronald Gijezen on Unsplash

Think carefully about your purchase(s)

When purchasing products, remember that just because an item is for sale does not mean it is legal. Think back on your research on endangered and critically endangered species, remembering that anything made by or from these animals may be illegal. Consider what you are about to purchase and whether an animal was exploited to make that item.

What to avoid

Here is short list of some of the items to avoid.

  • Raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of elephants, hippos, whales, narwhals, and seals. Most countries prohibit ivory importation and trade, and all commercial international trade in elephant ivory is prohibited.
  • Rhino horn products and jewellery. All commercial international trade in rhino horn is prohibited.
  • Marine turtle / turtle shell. Six of the seven species of marine turtle are endangered or critically endangered. All international trade is therefore banned. Turtle shell is often used in hair clips, bracelets, sunglasses, and souvenirs. Avoid products made from “tortoiseshell”. Avoid leathers, boots, handbags, and other goods made from sea turtle skin, as well as sea turtle meat, soup, eggs, facial creams, and shells.
  • Coral, shells, and dried marine animals (seahorse and starfish). Many nations limit the collection, sale, and export of live coral and coral products which are often sold as jewellery or aquarium decorations. Take similar precautions with shells and dried marine animals. Consult local authorities.
  • Live reptiles (tortoises, turtles, snakes). Most species are protected and require specialist knowledge and care.
  • Reptile skin (crocodile and snake). Certain leather products, including those made from caiman, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes require a CITES permit.
  • Furs from protected species, including tiger, jaguar, leopard, ocelots, polar bears, and sea otters, are prohibited.
  • Wildlife wools. Avoid shahtoosh, an illegal superfine fabric made from the protected and rare Tibetan antelope. Wool from the vicuña, a relative of the llama, requires a CITES permit.
  • Pharmaceuticals may contain products from endangered species such as rhino, tiger, leopard, Asiatic bear, pangolin, or musk deer. Check the labels carefully.
  • Caviar (sturgeon). It is possible to buy up to 125 grams without a permit. Over that amount, a CITES permit is needed.
  • Live primates (apes and monkey species). Most species are protected and require specialist knowledge and care.
  • Live birds, including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and finches, as well as bird feathers and mounted birds. Some are prohibited from trade or require a CITES permit.
  • Orchids, cacti, and cycads. Some are prohibited from trade or require a CITES permit.
  • Tropical hard wood, including carvings, furniture and souvenirs may be made from threatened species like ebony or rosewood.
Coral reef credit Olga Tsai on Unsplash


As you educate yourself and travel responsibly, help and encourage others to do the same. Share knowledge of endangered species and conservation efforts. If you can, why not donate your time and/or money to reputable initiatives that are helping wildlife populations increase and thrive?

Source: WTTC

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