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Q&A: The Latest Efforts to Curb Wildlife Trafficking with Sara Walker

5 Minute Read

The United States Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA) is a coalition of corporate and non-profit member organizations working together to combat wildlife trafficking. The USWTA and Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently announced they would be joining forces in a united effort to fight this global epidemic.

In advance of Endangered Species Day on 18 May, Casey Hanisko, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) / Adventure 360, recently checked in with Sara Walker, senior advisor on wildlife trafficking at AZA and former executive director for the USWTA.

A number of organizations around the world continue to fight against illegal wildlife trafficking, which has had a devastating impact on tigers, rhinos, and dozens of other species. © WWF & U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

Hanisko: Why did the USWTA merge with AZA? Did Trump administration policies limit your activities?

Walker: USWTA was not originally designed to be a long-term or permanent organization. The purpose of its existence was to support the Obama administration in its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, as outlined in its National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, to stop the illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products into the United States.

When the transition of power took place, we had to evaluate our successes to date and determine whether or not the goals of the Alliance could continue under a new administration. With a significant change in administration priorities on the horizon, we were forced to make some determinations about our future — including whether or not the Alliance would continue at all. And as we were approaching what was likely the end of the Alliance, a number of partners started reaching out to inquire if they could continue this important work under the umbrella of this unique public/private partnership. Following these thoughtful conversations, we came to the same consensus: that so long as wildlife trafficking remains pervasive, and our partners remain committed and willing to combat this crisis together, we should continue our important work and keep the Alliance intact beyond 2017.

In order to keep the USWTA going and to help it grow, we needed to find it a home. However, since the USWTA is an alliance and a coalition of NGOs and businesses, it was difficult to find the right organization that would embrace the multi-sector and multi-NGO approach. The AZA ended up being the perfect fit because AZA-accredited institutions are already doing a lot of good work to combat wildlife trafficking and protect endangered species in the wild, particularly through its Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program. Building on the solid foundation of AZA’s institutions around the world, the Alliance could help to strengthen efforts to educate visitors about endangered species and further magnify conservation efforts to its nearly 200 million visitors per year. Joining forces is a wonderful mechanism to coordinate these efforts and make them even more powerful with one voice.

The USWTA’s goals include:

  • Raising the public’s awareness of the scope of the wildlife trafficking crisis, including the illegal trade’s devastating impact on elephants, rhinos, tigers, and other irreplaceable species, and illegal traffickers’ role in funding global corruption and terrorism.
  • Striking at the heart of wildlife trafficking by reducing consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products.
  • Mobilizing responsible corporations in key industries to help cut off traffickers’ access to consumer markets and use their corporate and customer communications channels to assist in raising public awareness and reducing demand.

Hanisko: Has the USWTA mission shifted now that it is part of the AZA?

Walker: The name and the mission remain the same. But USWTA is now formally a program of the AZA, which means that I have joined the staff at AZA in the Silver Spring, Maryland, office and am now the senior advisor of wildlife trafficking. We also have an opportunity to scale up our work to the global level, because AZA is an international organization with members from nine countries. But our work as a platform to build and implement unique public/private partnerships, across a variety of sectors, will continue to function in the same way.

Hanisko: What unexpected opportunities have surfaced since joining forces?

Walker: The potential to harness the collective expertise and power at AZA zoos and aquariums to save animals from the illegal trade is very exciting. These facilities have enormous potential to make a big difference on this issue, and many are already working to combat wildlife trafficking in a variety of ways. Coordinating these efforts, and proliferating them within the AZA community, is a project that I’m really looking forward to implementing.

Hanisko: Have you been able to get the wildlife trafficking message out to the AZA member consumers?

Walker: We’ll be exploring this potential during our broader strategic planning that will be taking place over the next several weeks. We just held an inspiring meeting in San Diego to hear from the zoos and aquariums about this issue and discuss ways we can work collaboratively and effectively. There is a lot of willingness and excitement to engage with the Alliance, and I look forward to working with the AZA community to implement the strategic plan.

In addition to developing a strategic plan for the zoo and aquarium community, we’ll also be discussing how AZA members can partner with other sectors. Like travel and tourism: How can AZA members and tourism business partner together? How can they help to amplify each other’s work, and assure we are effectively communicating that message to the general public?

Public awareness and education campaigns play a big role in helping to curb trade of animals around the world. © WWF & U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

Hanisko: Is there a big goal that you are striving toward?

Walker: Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products. But in order to do that, we need to start by recruiting as many companies into our partnership network as possible across a variety of sectors that will all make commitments to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking to the public, and to ensure corporate supply chains are closed for business with wildlife traffickers.

The ATTA is a great example of this concept in action. By helping us advertise the travel and tourism toolkit to its more than 1,000 members, you are helping to get these critical materials into the hands of consumers around the world. (Note: The toolkit is available to ATTA members. Non-members can learn more about the toolkit here.)

Wildlife Conservation & Travel Webinar

Thursday, 17 May 2018 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. PDT

This webinar will introduce travel companies to the wildlife trafficking issue, provide an overview of various ways they can help raise awareness about the scope of the problem, and educate travelers about how they can be informed and buy informed.


Hanisko: What do you use as a tool to measure your impact and success?

Walker: Specific measurement is hard to do when you’re working within an illegal market because we have limited data to work from. But one key way to measure success is through public awareness and engagement of the issue of wildlife trafficking. Only one in five Americans surveyed knows anything about the illegal wildlife trade problem in this country, according to a 2016 WildAid poll. After a few years of steady, effective awareness campaigns across all of our sectors, we hope to see that number change.

And if we are truly making a difference in combating the trade, we’ll see populations of endangered species either increase or stabilize, and the number (and scale) of law enforcement confiscations will decrease.

We will continue to look at ways the travel and tourism sector can help us move the needle. On 17 May, we have organized a webinar to get feedback from businesses on how the toolkit has been effective and to gain more insight into perspectives from businesses that would like to, or have started, communicating to their consumers.

2 Comments to Q&A: The Latest Efforts to Curb Wildlife Trafficking with Sara Walker

  1. Harsh Vardhan

    Well done with this Tiger cub photo – USWTA and ATTA, Your efforts are appreciated. I am in India in to wildlife conservation for long, stay close by Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve and in process of planning an international meet on tiger conservation — appraisal of 35 years of Tiger Project launch. Welcome to join hands. Regards. Harsh Vardhan ([email protected]).

  2. Thank you! I’ve spent 7 years working on several projects including a documentary film Wild Daze…so few people know anything about Africa and the dire threats the wildlife face..and why saving these wild actually does save human beings, too.

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