Stop the Poaching of Endangered Species to Save Lives and Livelihoods


David J. Hayes, Huffington Post

Date Published


From climate change to habitat loss, animals around the world are suffering steep population declines. Adding to their plight is a global demand for exotic wildlife products, which has triggered an industrial-scale killing spree of endangered species like elephants, rhinos, tigers and other endangered animals. Losing the ability to appreciate these majestic creatures in their natural habitats is not only dispiriting on a moral and emotional level, but has serious implications for multiple industries that depend on tourism dollars. Companies in the travel and tourism sectors must band together to combat this crisis—not just for the sake of the wildlife being hunted, but for the sake of their livelihoods as well. 
We have already lost 58% of wildlife in the last four decades, and by 2020, we may lose two-thirds. Elephants are in a particularly precarious situation: the Great Elephant Census reveals a 30% population drop in the last seven years. Diminished elephant populations cost $25 million a year in lost tourism revenues, and as more of these animals are poached in the pursuit of creating and selling ivory trinkets, these losses will undoubtedly increase. The same is true for other wildlife that are poached and sold for parts, threatening tourism in many parts of the world while enabling an illegal, dangerous industry of poaching, corruption, trafficking, and terrorism.

Fortunately, the world is waking up to this bleak reality, and the travel and tourism business community is taking action. Several companies like JetBlue Airways, Royal Caribbean Ltd., and Carnival Corporation have joined forces with other businesses, non-profits and government agencies to raise awareness about the trafficking crisis and reduce the demand for wildlife products that are fueling the killings through the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. They are taking steps to educate travelers about how to make smart purchasing choices while on vacation and ensure they are not contributing to the demand for wildlife products and fueling the killing of endangered species.

These remarkable efforts by the travel and tourism industry fall under the umbrella of a wider U.S. response. In 2015, President Obama established a task force to develop and implement a National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking that seeks to reduce supply, interrupt transport, and eliminate demand for illegal products. Federal agencies have also partnered with African and Asian governments to help reduce demand. As one of the largest markets for illegal wildlife products, the U.S. can – and must – lead the way to reduce the scourge of killing around the world.

JetBlue Airways can be a model to other companies in this industry. In partnership with the Alliance and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, JetBlue has produced a short film that informs travelers of the role they can play in protecting Caribbean wildlife and preserving the region’s ecosystem. The video, which has begun airing on all JetBlue flights, is raising awareness about the illegal trade of the Caribbean’s plants and animals. Often unknowingly, travelers may help fuel the illegal trade of animal species such as sea turtles, coral, and wild birds, which are a big draw for tourism and impact the livelihoods of local residents.

Cruise lines are making commitments as well, and travel industry associations are taking unprecedented steps to ensure their travelers know what to look for and that their staff is prepared to guide customers away from purchases that fuel this trade. Through these kinds of education efforts, we can reduce the demand for products that use endangered wildlife parts, and thereby reduce the poaching of wildlife. This will save their lives and bolster the livelihoods of travel and tourism companies worldwide.

This is an exciting new front in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking. When travelers know how they can do their part to stem the global demand for illegal wildlife products, we can help save the world’s most iconic species – and help preserve opportunities for future generations to travel and enjoy their grandeur as well.

David Hayes, Chair of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior