It All Starts With A Call
by San Diego Zoo Global
It all starts with a phone call. When San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) answers, an agent from the US Fish and Wildlife Service or State Department of Fish and Wildlife might be on the line, asking for our assistance to provide sanctuary for animals or plants that have been the victims of the illegal trade in wildlife. Time is of the essence, as these animals are usually suffering from compromised health and wellbeing, because the illegal trade is not concerned with the welfare of its victims. Routinely, the answer is yes, we can assist. Thus far, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have taken in more than 500 animals and 2000 plants in our efforts to mitigate the impact of wildlife trafficking.
But providing a safe place for unfortunate illegal trade victims is not the only way SDZG is participating in the confiscation equation. To enhance confiscation capacity and connectivity among zoological institutions and other partners, SDZG partnered with AZA to develop the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network, a pilot program establishing a framework to reduce wildlife trafficking and increase support for wildlife law enforcement. Federal agencies, the California Fish & Wildlife Department, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities, botanical gardens, and certified facilities of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries are contributing to the Network, which aims to facilitate a rapid response to placement needs for confiscated wildlife, increase legal protections for wildlife and resources for the law enforcement officers that uphold trafficking laws, and increase awareness of the impact of the illegal trade on wildlife in the southwestern United States.
In some cases, confiscated wildlife does not come to San Diego, and SDZG stands ready to apply its expertise across the globe. In 2018, for example, we sent a team of husbandry specialists to assist in the rapid response to a confiscation of nearly 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises in Madagascar. Our team assisted with daily health exams, nutrition, and hydration of the specimens, and helped improve the facilities themselves to better support the care of the tortoises. SDZG has aided in similar rescue efforts for other reptiles in South East Asia, as well.
SDZG tackles wildlife trafficking in other ways, too. Since 2016, we have worked within to improve the efficacy of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and to ensure that participants in the CITES process are aware of the expertise and capacity to address illegal trade that is available within zoological institutions. We work with a worldwide consortium of zoos, aquariums, and NGOs to encourage that decision making with CITES be based on sound science, and serves the conservation interest of endangered species.
Finally, SDZG has worked to help make legislative change to protect endangered species from the illegal trade in wildlife. In 2015, we partnered with zoos and aquariums up and down the great state of California to pass AB96, which curtailed the importation and sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn. We have worked to garner support on Capitol Hill for federal legislation that would improve funding for wildlife law enforcement, and strengthen laws that protect species from illegal trade. And we continue to look for opportunities to work with elected officials to raise awareness of wildlife trafficking and the need for more attention to this issue from our governments.
San Diego Zoo Global is a proud founding partner of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance’s zoological pillar, and we look forward to continue working with the WTA to end the illegal trade in wildlife.