Conservation officials and environmental advocates cracking down on wildlife trafficking unveiled a public campaign at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Wednesday.
The illegal wildlife trade is pretty broad; it includes ivory, rhino horns, shark fins and sea turtle shells. Live animals get trafficked, too: reptiles, tropical fish, birds.
“There's people who are sort of professional smugglers,” said Peter Knights, executive director of the conservation group WildAid. But regular people unintentionally support trafficking, too, he said:
“There's the person going abroad on vacation they see a product, they say, ‘Oh, that looks cool.’”
WildAid, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will use social media and ads to tell people to be careful with what they buy. If it looks like something made from a wild animal, Knights said the best bet is to avoid it.
In the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson today, wildlife inspector Charles Quick with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showed examples: a briefcase made out of skin from a white rhinoceros, a jaguar skull, a leopard skin and a sea turtle shell.
He said in Atlanta they see a lot of sea turtle eggs brought in from the Caribbean, and hunting trophies from Africa.
“Probably more than most ports, just because we have a direct flight every day from South Africa,” he said.
The U.S. is one of the biggest importers of wildlife, but animals and plants are also illegally exported from here, said Knights.
“Black bears, which aren’t endangered, thankfully, but they are poached for their gallbladders and their paws,” he said. “And American ginseng is very popular, as well. It’s also legally harvested, but in addition it’s taken from the wild.”
“People only knew about ivory, they knew about sea turtles,” said wildlife inspector Amir Lawal, who stops illegal wildlife shipments coming into Miami with help from Viper, a black lab trained to detect animals. Lawal said he thinks public awareness is growing.
“It’s one of those things where people are talking about it now,” he said.
The presentation made an impression on Alan Jackson, who stopped by while traveling with his family to Washington, D.C.
“It's amazing,” he said, “because a lot of these things we would buy, without any consideration as to what's going on or where it comes from.”
Officials also unveiled the anti-wildlife trafficking campaign at the Los Angeles airport today.