“While the world still grapples with the pandemic, it’s important to remember how it’s believed to have all started – the wildlife trade."
World Animal Production has investigated the aviation industry’s role in wildlife transportation in West Africa. We discovered Ethiopian Airlines, the largest aviation group on the continent, is a major culprit for the commercial shipping of live wild animals around the world for luxury use as exotic pets.
Our team reviewed social media activity to demonstrate how airlines are fuelling wildlife trade - enabling the international transport of wild animals to meet the global demand for exotic pets.
Africa’s wildlife, such as African civet, African spurred tortoise, African Ball python, Bush babies and Rhinoceros viper among many others, are being exploited and large swathes of animals are depleting at a concerning rate.
This is all being driven by international consumers demand for luxury goods, with the reckless exotic pet trade being a major contributor. Wild animals are the victims, suffering unthinkable cruelty in the process.
Many of the animals being transported are threatened with extinction or have unknown or declining wild population trends. They will suffer during capture and are kept in cruel conditions, which can leave them stressed and vulnerable to infection or even death.
Not only is the global wildlife trade considered to be one of the leading causes of ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss globally, but exploitation of wildlife also poses huge biosecurity risks.
More than 70%i of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases are thought to originate from wild animals, with poor welfare conditions and proximity to people creating the ideal situation for viruses to mutate and spill over to humans.
West Africa – a major trade hub and exporter
Our report provides the most detailed insight to date into the diversity and global extent of wildlife trade originating from West Africa, a recognised trade hub and major exporter. It reveals:
Two hundred different species, including 187 vertebrates, were advertised as available for sale or export by just two wildlife trader social media accounts in Togo, West Africa, between 2016 and 2020
Over 7% of the species identified in the social media posts are classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Speciesii, demonstrating that species threatened with extinction are caught up in the trade
At least four of 33 Ethiopian Airlines shipments analysed, carried mammals of high biosecurity concern, including African civets, primates, and marsh mongooses to destinations in Italy, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia
Genets, rough-scaled lizards, African spurred tortoises, Savannah monitor lizards, green bush vipers, chameleons and scorpions were among the most frequently shipped animals via Ethiopian Airlines.
Ethiopian Airlines' Routes
Major risk to animals and people
Dr. Patrick Muinde, Research Manager, World Animal Protection, said:
“While the world still grapples with the pandemic, it’s important to remember how it’s believed to have all started – the wildlife trade. People continue to be subjected to travel restrictions to stop the spread of disease, so it’s shocking to know that wild animals of high biosecurity risk are being flown around the world, going under the radar. We could have a trojan horse situation as wild animals are known to pose disease risks.
“Ethiopian Airlines has an important role in connecting Africa to the world. They are importing lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines, but at the same time, by exporting live wild animals, they could be transporting dangerous pathogens around the world. The airline has a responsibility to safeguard against future pandemics and protect the continent's incredible wildlife.”
Call to Action
World Animal Protection is urgently calling on Ethiopian Airlines and other airlines to help restrict trade, with immediate action on species that are high biosecurity risks.
Airlines must transition away from all transportation of wildlife for commercial exploitation as luxury exotic pets and stop transporting wildlife in their fleets – to leave wild animals in the wild, where they belong.
Every day, thousands of wild animals are poached or farmed and sold into the global multi-billion-dollar wildlife trade – for food, for pets, for traditional medicine and for entertainment, causing immense suffering and putting us all risk.
This is why we are calling for an end to the global wildlife trade. Forever.
Sources: i Jones, K.E.; Patel, N.G.; Levy, M.A.; Storeygard, A.; Balk, D.; Gittleman, J.L.; Daszak, P. (2008). Global trends in emerging infectious diseases. Nature, 451, 990– 993, doi:10.1038/nature06536, Van Dorn, HR (2014) Emerging Infectious Diseases – Medicine (Abingdon). doi.org/10.1016/j.mpmed.2013.10.014 ii IUCN, 2020