The illegal trade in wildlife by highly organized criminal gangs forms one of the largest black markets in the world threatening biodiversity, human health and safety, and global security. These gangs use logistics- and transport-intensive activities, co-opting the legal air-, land-, and seaports, passenger and cargo airlines, shipping companies, express couriers, freight forwarders, and others as unwitting accomplices in their nefarious activities. In 2014, USAID recognized a gap in its strategy for combatting wildlife crime. While many of its efforts focused on stopping poaching (on the supply side) or changing consumer preferences (on the demand side), it had neglected the middle: the transportation of illegally procured plants and animals. USAID therefore decided to establish the ROUTES Partnership: Reducing Opportunities for the Unlawful Transportation of Endangered Species.

ROUTES is an innovative and transformational partnership bringing together international conservation organizations, donors and governments, and the transportation and logistics industry for a multi-year collaborative program to disrupt wildlife trafficking by reducing the use of legal transportation supply chains. Using our CollaborateUp Formula for rapidly forming, managing, and scaling multi-sector partnerships, CollaborateUp helped USAID and its partners achieve their goals. We rapidly convened core stakeholders, co-created a dynamic network of collaborators, developed an overarching vision and plan, identified a series of high priority activities, and supported development of a strategic communications plan and set of pilot programs.

To maximize results and impact, ROUTES focused year one and two activities on air transportation supply chains to take advantage of the current high level of commitment and champions in that industry. Over time, we expanded to work with freight, courier and mail services linked to air transportation and target engagement with maritime transportation. To date, we accomplished:

  • Rapid co-design: Co-created an overarching vision and strategy with over 20 wildlife and transportation experts from around the world and developed a set of lean start-up plans.
  • Prioritized action: Fleshed out the initial start-up plans for a) improving data analytics, b) engaging corporate leadership, c) integrating wildlife trafficking into relevant industry standards and protocols, and d) increasing passenger and client awareness of wildlife trafficking issues.
  • Rapid scaling: From inception to date, ROUTES has grown from an original five founding organizations to over 28 partners today.
  • C-Suite commitment: As a result of its work with ROUTES, the International Air Transport Association (IATA – the leading trade association for airlines) sponsored a General Resolution requiring all IATA members to help combat wildlife trafficking on their aircraft. The CEOs of the major airlines voted on and adopted the General Resolution. Working with the Royal Foundation of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York and His Royal Highness Prince Harry, over 100 transportation companies signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration, requiring them to help combat wildlife trafficking.
  • Accelerated Results: All 290 IATA member airlines have signed commitments to end illegal wildlife transportation on their carriage. In addition, ROUTES has created:
    • A vast online Resource Library with a data dashboard, industry guidance, factsheets, infographics, and other awareness-raising resources. 
    • A set of step-by-step guides and training programs for airport and airline personnel who have little or no literacy and a set of simple, easy-to-understand videos that can be deployed in any country, regardless of language.  
    • Integration into IATA’s Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) compliance and audit programs, including a more integrated approach to managing risk, especially of managing zoonotic disease vectors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.