Traffic (conservation programme)

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International non-governmental organization
Founded 1976
Headquarters Cambridge, UK
Key people
  • John A Burton, first Director
  • Steven Broad, current Executive Director
Products TRAFFIC Bulletin, various reports
Number of employees
approx. 100 (worldwide)

TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, is the leading non-governmental organization working globally on the trade of wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity and sustainable development. It was founded in 1976 as a strategic alliance of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).[1]

The organization’s aim is to ‘ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature’. It states that through research, analysis, guidance and influence, it promotes sustainable wildlife trade (the green stream work) and combats wildlife crime and trafficking (the red stream work). TRAFFIC’s work involves research, publication of influential reports, projects, education, outreach and advocacy on the issue of wildlife trade.[2]

Founded in 1976, TRAFFIC’s headquarters are located in Cambridge, United Kingdom, with offices located in strategically important locations in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania.


Early Years

In the 1970s, there was growing awareness amongst conservation organisations of the threat posed to species by wildlife trade and increasing recognition that there was a lack of information on this issue. The trade of wildlife products, from live exotic animals traded as pets to food products, exotic leather goods and tiger bone medicines, was a threat to species worldwide.

1975 saw the creation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), providing legally obliging frameworks to all countries who signed up, known as Parties. Its existence made it still more necessary to have a body to monitor this wildlife trade, so in TRAFFIC was established by the conservation charity IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) to meet this need.

Initially TRAFFIC was simply a group of volunteer experts aiming to gather and analyse wildlife trade data and identify illegal trade, TRAFFIC has since grown into a well respected international organisation. Initially it was funded primarily by the Fauna Preservation Society (now Fauna and Flora International) and based in London's Soho district.

The organization meanwhile made steps against unsustainable wildlife trade, including launching investigations which found that transport of wildlife frequently went against international regulations, for example, fFamingoes being transported with their legs bound together. TRAFFIC submitted draft guidelines to CITES on the transport of live creatures, which were adopted subject to minor alterations at the second Conference of Parties. TRAFFIC also called for a public enquiry into UK legislation into endangered species, after demonstrating the ease with which illegal wildlife products could evade Customs.

TRAFFIC in the 1980s

During this period the organisation underwent a formalising of its structure, establishing the TRAFFIC Committee as the organisation’s main governing body in 1984. Although the structure has changed, it includes representatives from the two founding organisations, WWF and IUCN, plus independent ones. During the decade, TRAFFIC established 11 new offices worldwide, including in Germany, East Africa, Ecuador and Oceania. TRAFFIC worked on a range of issues, including carrying out major studies on the Indian bird trade, the elephant ivory trade, the European seal skin trade and the reptile skin trade published in the 1984 and 1985 TRAFFIC Bulletins. The research into seals contributed to an EEC ban on the skin of certain seal species, implemented in 1983. TRAFFIC’s Brussels office was investigating the European parrot trade, while also assisting the government with the implementation of its newly signed up commitments to CITES. In 1986 TRAFFIC conducted a successful review of the implementation of the European Union (EU) wildlife trade regulations. The study ultimately led to the establishment of new EU Laws, often considered to be the most comprehensive in the world.

TRAFFIC in the 1990s

TRAFFIC continued to grow, establishing 13 more offices worldwide including in Europe (1990), in East/Southern Africa (1991) and in East Asia (1994). TRAFFIC began looking into trade issues including tiger, agarwood and rhino, and established the Bad ivory Database System (BIDS) which became the foundation for the highly important ETIS.[3] TRAFFIC’s first major work in Africa looked into the decline of black rhinos, which assessed the future for rhinos in the face of serious threats from poaching and continued trafficking of horn. In the first global attempt to keep track of all the rhino horn in circulation, TRAFFIC established the Rhino Horn and Product Database. It provided a valuable source of information for government and private sources to regulate rhino horn trade, and has since been expanded to include data from 54 countries. The organisation made headway in tackling the illegal trade of tigers, publishing an influential report reviewing the worldwide trade in tiger bone which was driving down populations for its use in the medicine trade. TRAFFIC hosted a forum involving East Asian stakeholders and the Chinese University of Hong Kong to discuss effective alternatives to the use of Tiger bone in traditional Asian medicine.[4] A joint TRAFFIC/WWF report led to a WWF campaign against the use of tiger bone in medicine.[5] TRAFFIC also turned its attention to medicinal plants, carrying out surveys to assess the impact of plant trade in Europe on wild plant populations in 1993, and hosted a symposium on medicinal plants later in the decade, which was attended by more than 120 plant specialists and government and industry representatives.[6] Meanwhile, the TRAFFIC office in India, after revealing that Agarwood was under huge threat from logging and international trade, helped the Indian government to draft a proposal for the species to be regulated under CITES. Its trade is now controlled via a strict system of permits. On the policy side, TRAFFIC was assisting governments with wildlife tracking and enforcement. In 1999 they helped establish the Species Protection Department of the Anti-Corruption Commission in Zambia establish a computerised database to improve understanding of smuggling networks and provided Kenyan authorities with wildlife enforcement training and helped establish a detector dog unit to sniff out wildlife products. TRAFFIC helped draft influential EU wildlife resolutions in 1997. In 1999 TRAFFIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CITES, increasing the potential for further collaboration between the two organisations.[7] In July the same year TRAFFIC also gained UK charity status.

TRAFFIC 2000 onwards

The following decade saw increasing collaboration and multifaceted ways to improve enforcement and tackle wildlife crime. TRAFFIC helped establish wildlife sniffer dog units in countries around the world, including the first in South Korea in 2001, following feasibility studies. Since the 2008 establishment of the Wildlife Sniffer Dog unit in India, 43 dog squads have been trained, and the dogs, informally known as ‘TRAFFIC’s super sniffers’, have been successful in leading to at least 150 wildlife seizures. TRAFFIC was also instrumental in the use of forensics to tackle wildlife crime, signing an MoU with TRACE (Technologies and Resources for Applied Conservation and Enforcement) in 2007.

TRAFFIC also began to branch out into what it now refers to as the ‘green stream’, promoting sustainable wildlife trade rather than tackling unsustainable trade. In 2007 TRAFFIC, together with WWF, IUCN and BfN, launched the ISSC-MAP standard for Sustainable wild collection of Medicinal and Aromatic plants.[8] A year later this merged with the FairWild foundation to form the FairWild standard, which promotes and certifies wild products which are harvested in a way which is sustainable both to the environment and to local communities. FairWild, still TRAFFIC’s close partner, runs projects around the world which help local communities make income off sustainable wild plant collection, harvesters receiving a premium for their products.

TRAFFIC began to incorporate more social and economic responsibility into its work, empowering communities whilst promoting sustainable wildlife trade. In 2011 a project was launched working with groups of indigenous women in the Amazon to promote sustainable trade and provide alternative sources of income to the unsustainable harvest of wildmeat. A partnership was set up between TRAFFIC, the Waorani Womens’ organisation and a high quality chocolate company, WAO chocolate,[9] to fulfil this purpose, winning a UNDP award in June 2014.[10]

Post 2010, TRAFFIC began to embrace the field of making wildlife trade sustainable through behaviour change. In 2014 TRAFFIC helped launch the Chi Initiative in Viet Nam, one of the biggest consumers of rhino horn products, to preserve rapidly depleting rhino populations.[11] Promoting the idea that virtue, masculinity and good luck flowed from within rather than from a piece of horn, they enlisted top businessmen and role model figures. In 2016 TRAFFIC launched the Wildlife Consumer Behaviour Change Toolkit as a communication platform and hub for all those interested in leading their own wildlife behaviour change campaigns.[12]

In an increasingly globalised era, TRAFFIC has continuously encouraged and been a part of international and intergovernmental collaboration. TRAFFIC supported the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in their creation of Wildlife Enforcement network (ASEAN-WEN) in 2005.[13] In 2017 TRAFFIC paved the way for collaboration between South Africa, the main source country of rhino horn, and Viet Nam, the main consumer, for forensically testing of rhino horn to determine the trade routes.[14]

Meanwhile, the organisation has published a number of reports. 2001 reports into the decline in Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish due to poor fishing regulations led to boosted efforts to control trade in these species at the next CITES Conference of Parties. A seminal report into wildmeat in the early 2000s paved the way for discussions and a TRAFFIC hosted conference in Yaounde, Cameroon. TRAFFIC won a prestigious award from the Mazda Wildlife Fund in 2007 for its achievements in conservation,[15] while in 2011 a short documentary on the poaching crisis in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex in Malaysia won the Best Local Film award at the Eco Film Fest.[16]

Some Key Achievements[edit]

The Bad Ivory Database System (BIDS) and The Elephant Trade information System (ETIS), 1992

The Elephant Trade Information system (ETIS) is a comprehensive information system to track illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products, helping with both enforcement efforts and recognition of long term patterns in the ivory trade (link). Managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of CITES, it contained close to 20,000 records from around 100 countries by 2014, with rigorous analysis which allowed adjustments for inherent biases in the raw data. ETIS originated with TRAFFIC’s Bad Ivory Database System (BIDS), set up in 1992 to keep track of all law enforcement records from ivory seizures or confiscations around the world since 1989. This evolved into the more sophisticated ETIS model. Already this seizure data has led to the production of individual country reports for every Party to CITES on two occasions, and in 2012 statistics from ETIS helped inform the CITES decision making process that resulted in a number of Parties being asked to develop National ivory Action Plans to regulate the ivory markets.[17]

Drafting EU wildlife regulations, 1997

One of TRAFFIC’s major achievements was its success in influencing EU wildlife trade regulations, resulting in significant improvement. In 1992 TRAFFIC published The wild plant trade in Europe: Results of a survey of European nurseries, a major study on plant trade which highlighted the need for harmonizing legislation within the EU. Off the back of this TRAFFIC worked the next year with WWF to initiate a project to work for improvement in EU wildlife trade regulations. They were finally successful in helping draft the new regulations, which took effect in 1997.[18] Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 939/97, informed by TRAFFIC’s knowledge of the legality and sustainability of commerce in wild animals and plants, represented some of the most comprehensive wildlife trade legislation in existence to implement CITES and strict new penalties were put in place for illegal wildlife trade.[19]

Shahtoosh, 1999

TRAFFIC, together with WWF, was instrumental in raising awareness about and reducing the demand for shahtoosh, which comes from the wool of the endangered Tibetan antelope. International trade of this animal product was banned by CITES in 1975 but domestic and illegal trade continued. In 1997 TRAFFIC provided a tip off for an important seizure of shahtoosh wool, when 140 shawls were seized in one of Hong Kong's top hotels, which led to the first successful prosecution based on the use of forensic identification techniques.[20] The organisation also launched an awareness campaign with WWF, which gained the support of public figures including supermodel Shalom Harlow, reigning Miss India Gul Panag, world-renowned Indian writer Khushwant Singh in calling for an end to shahtoosh shawls.[21]

UN resolution on protecting Wildlife, 2012

In 2012 TRAFFIC and WWF launched a joint global campaign encouraging governments to combat illegal wildlife trade and reduce demand for illicit endangered species products. It focused especially on those which were under extreme threat from poaching, for instance rhinos, where the number of killings in South Africa had risen from 13 animals (2007) to 448 (2011). As well as leading to action by individual governments, the campaign’s momentum led to the unprecedented success of the first UN resolution on wildlife crime in 2015 (TRAFFIC news story here, resolution here). Drawing global attention to the issue, the resolution tasks the UN secretary general with presenting an annual report on global wildlife crime and countries’ implementation of the resolution, as well as recommendations.

Bushmeat, 2000

TRAFFIC was one of the first organisations to draw attention to the unsustainable use of bushmeat or wildmeat in its 2000 study Food For Thought: the utilization of wild meat in eastern and southern Africa. Its findings, including the fact that the previously taboo species zebra was being increasingly harvested, led to widespread publicity including an IUCN report on the subject. TRAFFIC, together with IUCN and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) subsequently organised a workshop in Yaoundé, Cameroon to provide a forum for representatives of the conservation, development, private and government sectors to discuss the issue, which led to the adoption of certain TRAFFIC recommendations.[22]

EU-TWIX, 2005

TRAFFIC, as a joint initiative with the Belgian Federal Police, Belgian Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Management Authority (CITES MA), and Belgian Customs set up and still help maintain a wildlife database and information exchange platform known as the EU Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange (EU-TWIX).[23] Operational by 2005, it centralises data on seizures submitted by EU enforcement agencies, by 2010 holding over 31,000 seizure records and having an active membership of over 500 law enforcement officers from all EU Member States. It has helped with enforcement, with at least 13 criminal investigations being initiated in 2014 as a result of the 500 enforcement-related messages exchanged that year via the platform, and has been used to provide reports.[24][25] In 2010 EU-TWIX gained recognition at a CITES conference as the most functional database on illegal wildlife trade. TRAFFIC has since helped establish other systems modelled on EU-TWIX including TigerNet, set up in 2009 by the Indian Government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, as an official database on mortality and poaching related to tigers,[26] and AFRICA-TWIX, operational in Central African countries since 2016.[27] At the CITES 2010 Conference, the Parties adopted the resolution to create GLOBAL-TWIX, a global seizures database, an expansion of EU-TWIX.

Mama Misitu, 2007

TRAFFIC exposed unsustainable and illegal logging practices carried out in Tanzania in a 2007 report which pointed out that governance shortfalls in the forestry sector were leading to huge economic losses. The lost revenue each year was enough to build 10,000 new secondary school classrooms or provide a quarter of Tanzanians with mosquito nets. There was swift governmental response to this report, as APNAC met immediately to discuss the findings, whilst the government sent a team of experts to "beneficiary" countries including China, India, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, to ask for their help in stopping the illegal logging.[28] By April 2008, recognition of the issues in the report led to the launch of the Mama Misitu campaign, in which seventeen NGOs began to collaborate to tackle corruption and mismanagement in Tanzania’s forestry sector.[29]

EU-FLEGT in South America, 2013

The EU-FLEGT Programme (‘Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade’) aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening the sustainability and legality of forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.[30] TRAFFIC is implementing this in South America. As part of this, TRAFFIC in 2014 created an international exchange forum, allowing members of the public and private sector, governments, international agencies and indigenous groups to exchange information about logging.[31] It enables the creation of common strategies to tackle the illegal timber trade.

Tigers, ongoing

TRAFFIC has continually worked on tackling trade of endangered tiger products, frequently used for their pelts and bones for traditional Asian medicine.[32] After discovering in 1994, for instance, that over half of stores in America’s Chinatown districts were selling illegal wildlife products, mainly for medicine,[33] TRAFFIC hosted a forum to discuss alternative medicinal ingredients to tiger bone (link). More recently in 2007 a TRAFFIC study illustrated the dangers to the species from commercial tiger farming in China, which was providing opportunities for the illegal tiger product trade.[34] It led to high level discussion on the issue at the CITES fourteenth Conference of Parties (CoP14) resulting in a calls large scale tiger farms to be closed down.[35]

Recent Work[edit]

Recently TRAFFIC has continued to work on making sure the trade in wild species does not threaten their survival. This involves both tackling the illegal trade in wildlife and promoting the legal and sustainable trade in wildlife products, for instance through the FairWild foundation. Current programmes of work (2017): TRAFFIC is implementing the USAID funded Wildlife-TRAPS project which works in Africa and Asia, global hubs of wildlife trade, to tackle illegal trade between the two continents.[36] Part of this is strengthening the knowledge base and cooperation of governments, intergovernmental organisations and the private sector. In 2016 TRAFFIC organised a workshop on Rhino DNA testing which brought together scientists, enforcement officers and investigators from source, transit and consumer countries.[37]

TRAFFIC has been working through the ROUTES Partnership to disrupt illegal transportation of all wildlife species on a global level, carrying out research and providing enforcement training. This is a collaborative partnership working with transport industries including airlines. As part of this TRAFFIC has carried out research, encouraged intergovernmental collaboration and helped with enforcement, hosting for instance these concurrent trainings in airports in South Africa and Viet Nam, two countries inextricably linked in the rhino horn trade.[38]

TRAFFIC and FairWild have been implementing projects around the world to ensure that threatened plants are collected from the wild in a way which is both environmentally sustainable and economically viable for local collectors. Project LENA works in the Danube region of Eastern Europe to provide sustainable livelihoods for local families including wild plant harvesting. Another FairWild project recently worked in the habitat of the Giant Panda, creating a lasting system to ensure that plant collection will not damage the ecosystem.[39] In 2017, the inaugural FairWild week was launched to raise awareness of this certification scheme.[40]

Species-related work (2017):

TRAFFIC’s ongoing work on particular species includes: Elephants and Ivory: TRAFFIC is working to protect both the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, classified by IUCN as Endangered, and the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, classified as Vulnerable.[41] Rhinos: TRAFFIC has worked continuously to protect the endangered rhino population, including raising the alarm to CITES in 2007 at the beginning of the poaching crisis. CITES Parties subsequently created a Rhino Task Force, and facilitated collaboration between South Africa and Viet Nam on Rhino Horn trade.[42] Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: TRAFFIC is promoting best practice in the botanicals sector to support conservation, healthcare and livelihoods.[43]

Partnerships and Collaborations[edit]

TRAFFIC works with a range of partner organisations and individuals. This includes institutional partners WWF and IUCN, other NGOs, government agencies, inter-governmental organizations such as CITES and the World Customs Organization and businesses.

Intergovernmental organizations: African Union Commission CBD Secretariat CITES Secretariat CMS Secretariat COMIFAC European Commission Europol GEF (Global Wildlife Program) INTERPOL ITTO UNODC World Bank World Customs Organization Businesses: Alibaba Organic Herb Trading Co. Pukka[disambiguation needed] Tencent Traditional Medicinals

Non-governmental Organizations: 1% for the Planet Cheetah Conservation Fund CollaborateUp Foundation Camerounaise de la Terre Vivante (FCTV) IFAW IUCN SuLI IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group and Anguillid Eel Specialist Group (AESG) ROUTES Partnership TRACE WAZA WCS Wildlife Justice Commission ZSL

TRAFFIC is also a member of a number of formal partnership initiatives, including: Aichi Biodiversity Targets Task Force Asian Species Awareness Programme Biodiversity Indicators Partnership Cambridge Conservation Forum Cambridge Conservation Initiative Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW) Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) FISH-i Africa GEF Global Wildlife Program, Program Steering Committee Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC) Global Shark and Ray Initiative Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) ROUTES Partnership United States Advisory Council to the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking United States Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

TRAFFIC also works closely with CITES, having signed a MoU with them in 1999. Another partner is the FairWild Foundation. TRAFFIC was involved in setting up ISSC-MAP, which merged with the FairWild Foundation to create the FairWild Standard, which certifies the sustainable use of wild-collected ingredients, with a fair deal for all those involved throughout the supply chain.


TRAFFIC has a range of publications which can be accessed on the TRAFFIC site.


Eco Film Fest Mazda Wildlife Foundation Tom Miliken: Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit UNDP award 2degrees Sustainability Champions Awards

See also[edit]

FairWild Foundation Why Go Wild ROUTES IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group Arkive CAWT CITES Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW) Commission des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale (COMIFAC) Congo Basin Forest Partnership connect2earth Convention on Biological Diversity Convention on Migratory Species Environmental Investigation Agency EU wildlife trade Fairwild Global Tiger Forum Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) Indian Ocean - South-East Asian Marine Turtle MoU Illegal fishing Illegal logging IUCN Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) Program SACEP UNEP-WCMC WildAid Wildlife Alliance Wildlife Conservation Society WWF Year of forests International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE)


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