Trade secrets jeopardizing world’s most endangered species revealed by conservation forensic scientists at FIU

The smuggling of wild animals can occur through a variety of means, with air freight being the most common. Personal baggage and sea freight also account for a significant amount of animal smuggling seizures. In the United States, both air freight and personal baggage through airports are the primary methods of importation, which highlights the importance of focusing enforcement efforts in airports. The United States plays a significant role in both legal and illegal wildlife markets, with only a small percentage of trafficked animals being seized.

To address this issue, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has entered seizure data into a database called the Law Enforcement Management Information Service (LEMIS). The dataset is then formatted for social network analysis to identify the “key players” in the illegal wildlife trade and which countries and ports play a greater role in the supply chains.

Certain ports, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, have emerged as important seizure hubs, regardless of transportation method. China, Mexico, and Southeast Asia are major exporting countries that should be targeted in anti-trafficking education campaigns. Removing just five ports from the supply chain disrupted over 66% of illegal wildlife trade.

Enforcement efforts to stop illegal trade can be improved by deploying more wildlife inspectors at key U.S. ports of entry and prioritizing inspections of specific vehicles for wildlife trafficking. Demand reduction campaigns, pressure on governments to enforce regulations, and closing illegal wildlife markets can also help reduce trafficking. Facilitating legal trade in farmed species may offset illegal trade and help protect endangered populations.

FIU’s conservation team is also working to protect various species through leading research on combating illegal trade. Their innovations in DNA science and technology are already being used to disrupt trade and protect species.

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