Within the past twenty years, illegal wildlife trafficking has escalated into an international crisis estimated to have annual revenue of more than $23 billion USD. While many readers likely associate illegal wildlife trafficking with elephant ivory and rhinos horn, illegal wildlife trafficking touches tens of thousands of animals and can include not only the selling of bones, skin, and internal organs but the trafficking of living animals to be sold as pets. Daniel Menard, chief operating officer at VOTI Detection, states that airports are ideally situated in combatting illegal animal trafficking and can play a major role in protecting endangered wildlife.
Today, thousands of endangered species are threatened by wildlife trafficking, most notably, the rhinoceros. Sumatran and Javan rhino populations have faced extinction within the past century due to wildlife trafficking and poaching. In some Asian countries, the rhino horn is believed to have strong medicinal properties that can cure various ailments, including cancer. Although modern science has found little evidence to support these claims, rhino poaching has risen drastically in recent years, causing the death of nearly 96% of the total rhino population.
Many transnational animal trafficking operations exploit the aviation transport system in order to smuggle and sell illegal animals and animal products securely. In response to the growing number of illegally trafficked animals, many airlines and international airports are now stepping up and taking a more active role in the fight against this illegal and immoral trade. Airline staff spend a significant amount of time with passengers and their luggage, even more so than customs authorities, and are often the first line of defense for providing enforcement agencies with key intelligence. Dan Menard states that airports are now creating additional security measures throughout their facilities in order to more effectively catch and prevent wildlife smugglers from trafficking wildlife through these checkpoints.
The most effective tool against the international wildlife trafficking trade in recent years has been airport security measures and technology implementation. The aviation industry has been one of the top industries to implement new technology and digital intelligence throughout their security systems. Airports have been able to seize an increasing number of trafficked animals and animal products by utilizing new technology such as artificial intelligence, smartphone applications, and X-Ray imaging of passengers and their luggage.