Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network

Background
Wildlife trafficking has increased dramatically over the past decade, and several U.S. and state government agencies are on the front lines addressing these illegal activities in the Southern California region. Successful wildlife law enforcement often involves the seizure, confiscation and subsequent holding of a diverse array of wild animals and plants (wildlife), notably at U.S. ports of entry or exit, which comes with a unique set of challenges. Due to the increasing number of confiscations, and the complexities involved in caring for the live wildlife that are the victims of the illegal trade, it is important that effective and coordinated management approaches assure the ongoing conservation of threatened species, and the welfare of individual animals and plants, as well as maintaining evidentiary value for on-going criminal investigations.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), San Diego Zoo Global, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) organized a summit in August 2019 with forty key stakeholders from over twenty organizations and government agencies to discuss this issue. The summit led to the establishment of the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network (“the Network”).

About the Network
Many facilities that are accredited by AZA already work closely with U.S. government agencies, particularly those located near major ports of entry or exit of trafficked wildlife. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities, botanical gardens, and certified facilities of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) are key partners in assuring high standards of management of confiscated wildlife. The “Southern California” region includes the following counties: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Imperial.

Organizational Structure
The Network will operate as a working group of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA), a program of AZA. Working group members will, consistent with their agency/organization role, provide advice and staff resources regarding the activities of the Network and to implement the tasks that advance its strategic priorities. The working group will meet monthly, by teleconference, or on an as-needed basis if more timely counsel is required. The working group will be organized around the three strategic priorities outlined below:

(1) workflow and confiscations;

(2) communications; and

(3) legislative/regulatory.

Strategic Priorities
During the August 2019 summit, three strategic priorities were identified:

(1) establish a process to provide better support for law enforcement, including species identification, medical triage, and both short and long-term holding for confiscated wildlife;

(2) increased public awareness and education on the wildlife trafficking issue;

(3) improve the nation-wide regulatory system to close state loopholes, increased penalties for offenders, and provide greater funding for wildlife trafficking enforcement and holding.

Short-Term Objectives
Each subcommittee identified short-term objectives to address within the next six months (August 2019—February 2020) to one year (August 2019—August 2020):

  1. Workflow / Confiscations
    a. Develop a list of holding facilities that are appropriate for holding or assisting with confiscated live wildlife; and
    b. Develop a contact list of taxonomic experts, to support law enforcement authorities;
  2. Communications
    a. Identify additional organizations and partners that should be invited to participate in the Network and attend the follow-up meeting in February 2020;
    b. Identify existing case studies that can be utilized to highlight the issue to media outlets;
    c. Provide rapid response communications to take advantage of real-time cases and information that can be made public; and
    d. Work with the WTA’s Zoo and Aquarium Working Group to develop a campaign strategy to educate zoo, aquarium, and other facility visitors, about the ramifications of the illegal exotic pet trade and issue of wildlife trafficking more broadly.
  3. Legislative / Regulatory
    a. Quantify the problem in southern California including the scope and scale of seizures, confiscations, and additional key statistics from the region;
    b. Develop case studies to identify the scale of costs involved in the care of confiscated wildlife—both short- and long-lived species;
    c. Identify national legislative and regulatory opportunities to improve management of confiscations and increase funding to support efforts;
    d. Recruit additional organizations that could help lobby elected Government officials on the issue of funding for care costs, and other needs; and
    e. Work with judges, prosecutors, legislators and regulatory officials to tour rescue facilities in order to build support for law enforcement efforts to manage confiscated wildlife.

Next Steps
The Network with gather for a follow-up summit in February 2020, hosted by San Diego Zoo Global. Reports from the working group and subcommittees will be provided, in addition to the development of new short-term objectives for each strategic priority.