Wildlife trafficking is an international crisis. An unprecedented global demand for exotic wildlife products has triggered an industrial-scale killing spree of endangered species, including elephants, rhinos, tigers and other endangered animals.  Populations of endangered species have plummeted, yet the illegal trade shows no indication of slowing down.  A recent World Wildlife Fund report shows that we have already lost 58% of endangered wildlife in the past four decades; and by 2020, we may lose two-thirds.

The United States — as one of the largest consumer markets in the world—is helping to drive demand for illegal wildlife products around the globe.  Wildlife experts have confirmed that if we don’t act quickly, trafficking will wipe out many endangered species in our lifetime.

Wildlife trafficking has escalated into a multi-billion-dollar transnational criminal activity that is not only a critical conservation issue, but is also a threat to global security.  It is ranked as the fourth most profitable transnational crime, only behind the drug trade, arms trade, and human trafficking.  Wildlife trafficking not only undermines conservation efforts, but also fuels corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for eco-tourism revenues.

Black rhinoceros in the wild

Portrait of a black (hooked-lipped) rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

As animals disappear from the wild, the opportunity to view them decreases—creating a domino effect that is rippling across the travel and tourism industry.  A new study has shown that elephant poaching alone already is costing $25 million a year in lost tourism revenues.  For the animals, poaching is a matter of life and death.  But for many who depend on tourist revenues, it’s a matter of livelihood as well.  Ensuring that animals remain in the wild is not only good for the wildlife and ecosystems; it’s also good for local economies around the world.

But there is hope to end the senseless killing of wildlife!  In 2015, the United States Wildlife Trafficking Alliance was formed to combat wildlife trafficking through public-private partnerships.  The Alliance brings together a coalition of leading nonprofit organizations and private companies that have been working closely with U.S. government to raise public awareness, reduce consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products, and mobilize the private sector to adopt best practices and help close off wildlife traffickers’ supply chains.  Since its formation, the Alliance’s network of partners has expanded across the corporate and nonprofit sectors, including leading companies in travel and tourism, e-commerce, fashion and jewelry, communications, non-governmental organizations, and other key sectors.

As the newest member of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, Expedia, Inc. has joined a global collaboration to educate travelers about the scourge of wildlife trafficking. With its significant global reach and influence, the travel and tourism industry can make an enormous impact in helping protect endangered wildlife around the globe.  But we can’t do it without the help of all citizens and travelers.  Education is a critical component to solving this international crisis.  And by buying informed, we can all work together to fight trafficking.

Blue and gold macaw parrot

As you travel around the world, you will find wildlife and plant products for sale—in the form of jewelry, trinkets, clothes, pets, souvenirs and more. But just because something is for sale does not mean that it’s legal to bring it home to the U.S., or to your country of origin.  Some of these products may be made from protected animals or plants and may be illegal to export or import.  And other wildlife products may require permits before you can bring them into the United States.  By making informed choices, you can avoid having your souvenir confiscated or paying a fine— and support wildlife conservation around the world.

Most countries, including the United States, protect their native animals and plants under national laws and through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Signed by more than 180 nations, this treaty supports sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while protecting endangered species.  In addition to international agreements, U.S. laws provide even stronger protections for such animals as marine mammals, elephants and wild birds. If the country you’re visiting bans the sale or export of a species, you cannot legally import it here.

To ensure that you are not unwittingly contributing to the illegal wildlife trade, download our Guide for Travelers or Traveler Wallet Card to ensure you are informed with the right information before you travel.   Traveling to the Caribbean?  You can download the Caribbean Guide and Caribbean Wallet Card too!

Because consumer demand for animal products is fueling the illegal trade, the killings will continue so long as there is demand in the U.S., and in other major markets for illegal wildlife products.

In a very real way, consumers—especially travelers—hold the key to ending trafficking and helping to save the world’s most iconic species for the benefit of generations to come.  To learn more, visit www.uswta.org/BuyInformed.

The views and expressed opinions on these pages are those of the organizations listed, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Expedia, Inc.  Any cited research mentioned by these organizations is sourced by them and has not been verified or independently evaluated by Expedia, Inc.