Los Angeles Zoo: A WTA Platinum Partner

Wildlife products surrendered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the 2019 Toss the Tusk Event at the L.A. Zoo (credit Jamie Pham).

Illegal wildlife trafficking is a significant threat to both the conservation of wildlife and sustainability of human livelihoods. Species around the globe are being captured and/or killed for the pet trade, consumption, ornament, and other human uses at an unsustainable pace, which is driving them to extinction.  Now, with the unprecedented global impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its likely emergence in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, the dire threat of the wildlife trade on human lives is undeniable.

This threat is not isolated to China or other distant places; illicit wildlife markets exist throughout the world, including in the United States, and the transport of wildlife parts to our cities increases the likelihood that new diseases will emerge. It is imperative that we fight illegal wildlife trade for humans and non-human animals alike.

The Los Angeles Zoo is actively addressing this threat locally and abroad in a variety of ways, including assisting governmental agencies with confiscations and the quarantine, housing, and care of displaced wildlife, partnering with the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network, educating the public with community outreach events, and supporting conservation organizations working in the field as they fight wildlife trade at its sources.

The L.A. Zoo applies the expertise of its veterinarians and animal care experts to provide critical functions to partnered government agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tasked with monitoring wildlife trafficking at our ports of entry. L.A. Zoo experts are frequently called on to identify confiscated species, provide health assessments, care, and quarantine for animals smuggled into the U.S.A, which reduces the risk that they transmit novel diseases to our native wildlife or humans. The L.A. Zoo has rescued over 100 animals confiscated at the L.A. Port, international airport, and postal service, including critically endangered species like the Chinese giant salamander, Galápagos tortoise, and Bali Mynah. One of the Zoo’s resources in this effort is our Avian Conservation Center (ACC), a home on zoo grounds to several species of rare and endangered birds that is closed to the public. A variety of the species in the ACC were confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade, and the ACC provides a quiet respite for these endangered birds to thrive.  If the Zoo cannot house a confiscated animal, we coordinate housing with other local zoos and wildlife centers while officials work on the confiscation.

The L.A. Zoo is an active partner of the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network (SCWCN), a WTA working group comprised of Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)-accredited facilities, U.S. government and non-government agencies, universities, botanical gardens, and certified facilities of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Together we work to support law enforcement, community outreach and education, and improve the nationwide regulatory system related to wildlife trade and confiscations. The L.A. Zoo’s CEO & Zoo Director, Denise Verret, serves as an executive advisor for the SCWCN, and Director of Animal Programs, Beth Schaefer, serves as a co-chair for its workflow and confiscations subcommittee. The Zoo will host the next SCWCN meeting later this fall, which will bring together a host of 20 partners from AZA-accredited facilities, the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, AZA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other organizations. 

In 2019, the L.A. Zoo participated in the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance’s Toss the Tusk Campaign, serving as one of the first safe drop-off locations for Angelenos to dispose of ivory and other illicit wildlife items. This national public service campaign is focused on stopping the illegal ivory trade, which is a threat to elephants, rhinos, and hippos, and calls upon the community to voluntarily surrender any items in their possession to help keep them from ending up on the black market. The U.S. is one of the largest markets for products containing ivory, which means demand from American consumers has a tremendous influence on whether elephants will become extinct within our lifetimes. By removing ivory products from the market, communities can reduce this demand and keep these species alive for generations to come.

In addition to these actions, each year the L.A. Zoo provides conservation grants to organizations fighting wildlife trafficking around the world. In 2019, the L.A. Zoo supported 11 organizations in Africa, Asia, and South America which are directly involved in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. These organizations apply a variety of tactics, including educating local communities, actively monitoring and guarding poaching hot spots and wildlife markets, and disrupting trafficking supply lines by aiding officials in confiscating, rehabilitating, and, when possible, releasing wildlife back to their native range. In addition to financial support, the L.A. Zoo Animal Care and Learning & Engagement experts regularly travel to our conservation partners and engage in capacity building to improve the impact and long-term sustainability of these organizations.

Wildlife trafficking is a significant global threat to both humans and wildlife. As we continue to fulfill our mission to conserve biodiversity and improve the world for future generations, the L.A. Zoo is dedicated to fighting wildlife trafficking through a holistic and multifaceted approach. We are proud to be a platinum partner with the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, and believe that together we will successfully confront this threat.