Owliver's Specials What's Up World?

It does not fly with us: How the aviation industry is supporting the fight against illegal wildlife trade6 min read

September 7, 2021 4 min read


It does not fly with us: How the aviation industry is supporting the fight against illegal wildlife trade6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Wildlife trade is one of the gravest realities of our world. Animals are traded across borders for food, ornamentation, utility, and more. Illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest global criminal activity. It has direct bearing on wildlife, ecological balance, and global health.

Dip into Owliver’s archives to know more about illegal wildlife trade:

But the world exists for you, me, and all its inhabitants equally. So, how can one species (read humans) take precedence over the other?

Is personhood limited only to humans?!

Owliver’s archives: Click on the image to think through the question.

But the fact that these questions are being asked shows promise for a better future where animal protection can reach new heights.
Quite literally!

While this is an instance of a positive movement for our friends from the wild returning to the wild (Read: Understanding rewilding: Bringing back the wild and the free), other attempts at these movements have far more sinister ends. But the vigilance of the aviation industry is helping! In 2019, more than one million illegal wildlife and animal products were seized at airports around the world after screening marking another instance where crisis was averted.

Here’s a look at what the industry is doing in its fight against illegal wildlife trafficking:

International Collaboration:

It took 28 days to apply this decal on the surface of the plane. Image: Simple Flying

In 2016, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) endorsed a resolution condemning illegal trafficking of animals. It pledged to partner with government authorities and conservation organisations to combat the global crisis affecting 7000 species all over the world! 61 airlines also signed with the Buckingham Palace ‘United for Wildlife’ Transport Taskforce. To kickstart the collaboration, two of Emirates’ Airbus A380s were painted with its signature decals-Unite for Wildlife.The airlines also equipped their in flight magazines and entertainment systems with further literature on wildlife protection.

Alongside, the airline is also training its staff to better detect wildlife and animal products in its cargo. It has banned hunting trophy shipments entirely.

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, has played a massive role in getting IATA and the airlines to commit to the cause. Image: Simple Flying

In 2015, Emirates also became a part of ROUTES—Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species. This initiative brings together government agencies, conservation organisations, academics, development groups, and donors to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. ROUTES latest campaign along with United for Wildlife called “Step Up for Wildlife: with the catchy tagline ‘It does not fly with us’ is aimed at strengthening the efforts of aviation companies in their fight against wildlife trade.


If you remember a time before the pandemic brought everything to a standstill, you might know what it is like to travel by an aeroplane. Hours and rounds of screening, are followed by more hours and screening to ensure safety of all passengers. Your luggage is passed through a machine (almost like an x-ray machine) that shows the insides of your bags to see if there is anything in it that is illegal, harmful, or undeclared.

Image: Giphy

Now, you can well imagine how this technology can help control illegal wildlife trafficking. The airlines also equipped their in-flight magazines and entertainment systems with further literature on wildlife protection.

At London Heathrow, a screening pilot project is underway that uses artificial intelligence to detect the presence of wildlife in held luggage. On success, this technology will be scaled to other airports.

Increased Awareness:

The Airport Council International released the first edition of the book, “Combatting Wildlife Trafficking Handbook” this year. The book is a 50-page-document full of case studies, policies, community engagement etc. Rosanne Blijleven, Corporate Responsibility Advisor for the Royal Schiphol Group revealed that this topic did not receive deserving attention back when it was first raised in 2012. But the involvement of the ACI changed things for the better.

Galapagos Ecological Airport is used as a case-study in ACI. Image: Simple Flying

The pandemic has also served as the motivation behind a more active participation by the aviation industry. While there is no clarity with regards to the origin of the pandemic, it is clear that zoonotic diseases exist, and can be passed on from animals to humans. Illegal meat like bats, chimpanzees, and rats are illegally introduced into European markets making people more susceptible to catching zoonotic diseases.

Unravel the puzzle below to find the world’s most trafficked animal:

Sourced from Simple Flying and Simple Flying