Wildlife experts gathered at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday for the launch of the #StopWildlifeTrafficking campaign, which aims to create awareness of the dangers of the illegal animal trade. Among those in attendance were officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the nonprofit conservation group WildAid.
The nationwide joint campaign to end the wildlife trade includes public service announcements, one of which included the cast of "The Walking Dead."
John Baker, managing director for WildAid, told KPCC it’s an outreach effort under President Barack Obama’s international wildlife trade task force that was set up several years ago.
Trafficking has been an issue for years, the service's Jill Birchell told KPCC, and although the price of some illegally traded animal products like ivory has fallen by more than 50 percent in countries like China, the agency is still trying to educate the public and raise awareness of the issue.
The idea of wildlife poaching and trafficking usually conjures a picture of elephants in an African desert being chased down by poachers. While that may be an accurate depiction, most people might not realize that illegal wildlife trading is happening closer to home as well.
Baker said it isn't just smugglers that are to blame — tourists can contribute to the problem without knowing it.
One goal of the campaign is to help people understand "they should not be buying these products, and helping them to change their behavior to no longer purchase stuff like ivory carvings or sea turtle shell products when they go on vacation," he said.
According to Baker, 80 percent of the U.S. population isn't aware of the true extent of the wildlife trade. They may be aware of elephant ivory or rhino horn and tiger — the type of thing that makes it into the news — but the full range of other activities are often left under the surface.
"Whether it’s coral, sea turtles, live reptiles and birds, people just aren’t aware that it’s so prevalent, and they’re also not aware of the impact of people buying and selling these products — that they’re actually decimating the wildlife population in other parts of the world,” he said.
The demand for U.S. native species in other parts of the world has been on the uptick, Birchell said, in part because of increased wealth in other parts of the world, including China.
Increased demand for domestic box and water turtles has created a surge of unlawful harvesting and exportation, not only for human consumption but also for the pet trade in Asia, she said.
An expansion in the illegal trade of American black bear gallbladders is another example of the issue domestically
“As more people have more money to buy these sought-after items, it’s putting more pressure on native populations of U.S. species,” she added.
Wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated $10 billion to $20 billion annually, ranking at the same scale as arms, drugs and human trafficking, Baker said.
WildAid's Kari Birdseye said the campaign was launched in L.A. and Atlanta to start, but will expand throughout the country in the next year.