Qatar Airways Takes A Stand Against Wildlife Smuggling

The multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade is facing another roadblock. Qatar Airways is stepping up its stand against the smuggling trade. The airline already signed the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Declaration in 2017, and had commenced several inhouse anti-trafficking initiatives since then.

Now, Qatar Airways has received an award at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul for its efforts.

Qatar Airways takes a stand against wildlife smuggling
Qatar Airways is standing a concerted stand against illicit wildlife trafficking. Photo: Qatar Airways

The Middle East is a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade. Estimates of the value of illegal wildlife trading vary, but the World Economic Forum says it is one of the world’s most lucrative crimes, worth up to $23 billion a year.

United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Declaration

In 2016 Qatar Airways joined with 40 other companies to sign the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Declaration, known as the Buckingham Palace Agreement. Near neighbours and arch rivals Etihad and Emirates also signed the agreement.

Core aspects of the Buckingham Palace Agreement included refusing to accept or ship illegal cargos, sharing knowledge about illicit trading networks, and improving and speeding up contact with law enforcement.

The A350-900 is the 250th aircraft for Qatar Airways.
Qatar has signed several anti wildlife trafficking agreements. Photo: Qatar Airways

At the time, Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a media statement,

“… we have a strict policy governing the types of animals and animal products that are banned for carriage on board Qatar Airways.”

Qatar Airways is also a signatory to the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) partnership. This group seeks to bring together a wide range of governmental, NGO, commercial and academic groups, in an effort to combat illicit wildlife smuggling.

Illegal animal smuggling

Qatar Airways is the world’s largest cargo carrier, making it vulnerable to targeting by traffickers. Some 7,000 types of plants and animals are routinely shipped illegally, but the bulk of the trade is made up of ivory, rhino horn, birds and reptiles.

Qatar Airways takes a stand against wildlife smuggling
Birds are commonly trafficked. Photo: Rodrigo Soldo Souza via Flickr

Qatar operates a rigorous screening process of all cargo consignors. But catching passengers trying to smuggle animals through in their hand luggage or on their bodies can be trickier.

In March 2019, a Russian man was arrested trying to smuggle a drugged baby orangutan in his luggage out of Bali’s International Airport. He also had two geckos and five lizards hidden in socks. He faces up to five years imprisonment.

Qatar Airways staff have been trained on aspects of the illegal wildlife trade, including the methods used and how to report it. Switched on, observant ground staff could prove one of the most effective barriers to the trade.

“Qatar Airways has a zero-tolerance policy towards the illegal trade of endangered wildlife, and is actively engaged in stopping illegal wildlife transportation in its tracks,” said Akbar Al Baker.

It’s not just the illicit animal trade that can cause issues. Many animals, including domestic pets, can be legally transported by airlines. But this can be a fraught business. Earlier this year, American Airlines was fined for transporting two dogs across the Atlantic in tiny cages.

In the United States, travelling with animals is not uncommon, although two passengers buying seats for their two falcons recently caused a bit of a stir

Qatar Airways takes a stand against wildlife smuggling
A pair of falcons recently caused a stir on a US flight. Photo: Hans Splinter via Flickr

However, it’s the illicit trade in wildlife that is causing the most angst.

Qatar Airlines deserves credit for taking a concerted stand against illicit wildlife trafficking. It’s a cruel trade that does immense harm. The recent award in Seoul is well deserved recognition.