This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.
In April, South African Airways (SAA) announced that SAA Cargo, the company’s airfreight division, would no longer transport hunting trophies from rhinoceroses, elephants, tigers, and lions internationally. Shortly after, in May, Emirates Airlines announced that they would no longer transport the very same trophies.
Both airlines have made the move in an effort to stem the illegal trade of animal products. In the case of SAA, the move was a direct reaction to an incident in April 2015 when an animal product cargo was misdeclared as “machinery spare parts” and the company was served with a notice that the Australian authorities had seized the shipment. The company spokesperson, Tlali Tlali, said that SAA “had to act swiftly to curb the problem of illegal transportation of animals.”
The declarations from these two major airlines spurred conservationists to push for further bans by airlines. In response to the news, conservationists have taken the opportunity to petition other airlines to ban the transport of animal trophies. The focus of these groups’ attention seems to be on British Airways and Delta Airlines. (Delta Airlines offers the only nonstop flights between the U.S. and South Africa that are not operated by SAA.)
The moves by SAA and Emirates Airlines could indeed hamper at least part of the illegal wildlife trade. According to Out of Africa, a report released by C4ADS and BornFreeUSA, two prominent non-governmental organizations, the airborne flow of ivory accounts for the majority of trafficking incidents. Of particular interest the report found that Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport is one of the three largest hubs for the illicit trade of ivory in Africa, and that United Arab Emirates’ Dubai International Airport, along with Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, is one of two major choke points for ivory leaving Africa via airborne routes. The decisions made by SAA and Emirates Airlines, at some cost to their profit margin, may make a significant difference in stemming the wildlife trade.