Illegal Wildlife Trade

Amy Gotliffe, VP Conservation, Oakland Zoo
November 4, 2020

Our work at Oakland Zoo, every day, is to inspire our guests to join us in envisioning a sustainable planet where humans and animals co-exist. Not only is this vision something to aspire to, but the global pandemic we are now experiencing informs us that embracing a nature-connected mindset is critical for all inhabitants of our planet.

The demand for wild animals as pets, or as exotic ingredients in food or medicine, is ethically wrong, ecologically destructive, a serious threat to wildlife populations, and clearly one of the main causes of zoonotic disease.  In various parts of the planet, illegal wildlife markets feature anything from wolves to pangolins, crammed together, uncared for and often sick. These markets are the perfect breeding ground for disease and transmission. The coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated in one of these markets in China. We now recognize that the illegal wildlife trade, and these deplorable markets, are beyond a conservation issue -- they are a global health issue.

To move towards a global solution, accredited zoos are being asked to step up and take a leadership role. Why zoos? Zoos are in a perfect position to influence legislation to strengthen anti-poaching regulations, reduce the demand for illegal products, provide alternative incomes for communities living among threatened wildlife, support organizations that work to combat and prevent this issue, and activate the public through education and engagement.

Oakland Zoo joins the Association of Zoos & Aquariums in taking a strong position on the Illegal Wildlife Trade through a newly created and launched Position Statement.

"I believe we are sending a strong message to our conservation partners, and the public, that we remain committed to eliminating wildlife trafficking." - Dan Ashe, AZA President & CEO

Oakland Zoo backs this statement by offering anti-poaching messaging and outreach in our programs, and is in the process of creating an exhibit that will engage and inspire positive change around this issue. Oakland is a port town and illegal items do make their way to our shores, making Oakland Zoo/Conservation Society of California uniquely positioned to offer our visitors authentic information that makes a serious difference.

Our commitment to combating the illegal wildlife trade is zoo-wide. Our gift shop features beautiful items created by communities living near wildlife – offering a sustainable livelihood that supports both people and wildlife. Our Animal Care team supports local authorities by taking in confiscated animals if needed, such as a lizards or turtles, and even an alligator – and care for them until a release or new home is established.  Some of our most loved Oakland Zoo permanent animal residents are rescues from this deplorable industry.

Oakland Zoo also supports work in the field to prevent poaching of wildlife through donations to organizations such as Big Life in Kenya.

We also proudly partner with ARCAS in Guatemala – located in the Mayan Biosphere, a habitat full of wildlife in danger of poaching for the illegal pet trade. ARCAS is a non-profit Guatemalan NGO formed in 1989 by a group of Guatemalan citizens who became concerned as they saw their precious natural heritage - especially their wildlife - rapidly disappearing before their eyes due to the illegal wildlife trade.  

Their work is crucial: rescue, rehabilitate and release central American species such as macaws, monkeys, reptiles, coatis, ocelots, and even jaguars.  Since their opening, ARCAS has rescued between 300-600 endangered species per year of more than 40 different species. They may have a full house, but will always rally when a truck pulls up with 60 endangered and helpless scarlet macaw chicks!

Their work requires collaboration with the government, expert vet care, skilled animal management and rehabilitation, and tracking and research once the release is complete. Of course, ARCAS believes that prevention is key. Their new Education Center is a hub for raising awareness and inspiring preventative actions for the local community and travelers.

The pandemic has made their work even more challenging, as that their normal core of international volunteers is totally diminished, leaving the endless tasks of feeding, cleaning and care all in the hands of the small, but mighty staff. Once travel is safe again, we advise anyone interested in wildlife rehabilitation to volunteer at this wonderful facility, and support their efforts in any way you can.

ARCAS’s hard work and commitment pays off, when a flock of those once starving scarlet macaw chicks – after seven years of rehabilitation – is released into the open skies, free to live their lives in the jungles where they belong.

We are also so proud of YOU – our public, who visits the zoo with open minds and hearts, and enables us to help wildlife across the planet. Thank you for sharing our vision.

Here are some ways to Take Action against Illegal Wildlife Trade:

• Learn More about ARCAS and consider volunteering

• Learn More about AZA and their stance on the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Contact CalTip if you spot illegal poaching or call 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258)