Dozens of customs officials bust through the door of a remote and quaint-looking farmhouse. The first thing Crawford Allan sees when he enters following the raid? A preserved chimpanzee head on a table in the living room, a macabre trinket on display like a family heirloom.
It’s an image that flashes in Allan’s mind when he’s falling asleep at night. But it’s also a memory that continues to fuel his two decade-long battle against wildlife trafficking.
Allan serves as senior director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade network run jointly by WWF and the World Conservation Union. In this interview with Good Nature Travel, Allan discusses the continued impact of wildlife crime on people and natural resources around the world and shines light on some of WWF’s recent accomplishments fighting wildlife crime.
Q: What is the impact of wildlife trafficking on people around the world?
Crawford Allan: Wildlife trafficking has a major impact on people and natural resources and the environment for a number of reasons, one being that it affects national security. The poaching and trafficking of things like elephant ivory in Africa are funding groups linked to terror.
Wildlife trafficking also undermines social standing, sustainability, incomes, revenues and livelihoods for people in some of the poorest countries of the world, as their natural resources are stolen from them by criminal syndicates that are profiting from extinction.
Q: What is causing the recent surge in wildlife crime?
A: This unprecedented surge we’ve seen over the past couple of years or so is driven ultimately by greed—greed of criminal syndicates who have moved in and are profiteering. Also, they are pandering to newfound wealth and new affluence—this strange, mythical belief that certain animal products like rhino horn will cure disease or help you succeed socially by buying people an item of social standing, like rhino horn or ivory, as a gift.
It’s a dynamic that is double edged. It’s great that there’s economic development and increased wealth in countries like China, but unfortunately some of the purchasing decisions being made by those people are really misguided.
Q: How is WWF tackling the issue?
A: WWF is addressing wildlife trafficking, firstly, by pushing through a major global campaign called Stop Wildlife Crime. It has achieved some major results, especially in making people at the highest levels of government realize that wildlife crime is a serious threat—not just to wildlife, but also to people and national security.
We’ve even got now the backing of President Obama himself, who’s instigated a new strategy and an executive order to tackle this issue. This is having ripple effects across the globe, with many governments following suit. In fact, there’s been a major injection finally of resources, effort and action to urgently address it.
Q: How do you alter people’s impressions of items made from wildlife?
A: We’re really trying to change behavior and attitudes toward buying things like ivory and rhino horn and tiger bones, and make people realize the impact it’s actually having. A rhino horn doesn’t just drop off the nose of a rhino like an antler. You actually have to kill the rhino to get that horn. A lot people in Asia don’t realize that.
So, we’re trying to help bring about a greater awareness and understanding and find alternatives for people—to tell them that they really don’t need to buy that. A lot of it is done through social media and through working with governments.
Q: Are you seeing positive changes?
A: After 20 years of working on this issue, I’ve never been more positive than in the past 18 months about the impact that we’re having. I’ve seen doors open, money flow, changes happen. We now have access to the highest levels of many governments. People really understand what we’re doing. People really want to work with us. I’ve never seen so many new partners from so many different sectors come to us trying to help. It’s exciting, and we’re trying to make the most of it. What this means is that we have made, what I believe is a sea change in attitudes toward this issue. It is now a top priority. It’s serious.
Learn more about WWF’s Stop Wildlife Crime Campaign.
Google Hangout with Crawford Allen
Wednesday, December 18
12:00 – 12:30pm E/T
Join here: http://wwf.to/1cwxARh
Be sure to join Crawford Allen from for a special Google Hangout to discuss the urgent state of wildlife trafficking, their collaborations with +Google, and their ongoing efforts to use technology to stop wildlife crime. Tune in, ask your questions, and learn how you can get involved!
The Participants will be:
Lacy Caruthers: Principal on the Google.Org Team
Crawford Allan: Senior Director, World Wildlife Fund/Traffic
Jonathan Baillie: Conservation Director, Zoological Society of London
David E. Schindel: Executive Secretary, Consortium for Barcode of Life, Smithsonian