THE BLOG
05/20/2016 12:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Endangered Species Day, Embrace the Animals You Recognize -- And the Ones You Don't

Today is Endangered Species Day. Who knew? While most of us are empathetic about the plight of elephants, tigers, sea turtles, condors, and other endangered animals, they seem distant from our daily lives -- both literally and figuratively. So, on Endangered Species Day, we don't know whether to celebrate, mourn, or just move on to a topic that we can do something about.

The reality is that we are connected much more closely than we think to the world's endangered wildlife. Wealthy nations like ours are fueling demand for illegal wildlife products like ivory, tiger rugs, and exotic skins. Killing wildlife for consumer products that we are buying -- from tourist trinkets, fake medicines, to high-end fashion accessories -- has elephants, rhinos, and many other species facing extinction in the wild.

Fortunately, a coalition of major companies is working with major wildlife non-profit organizations and the U.S. government to disrupt illegal wildlife traffickers' access to U.S. markets and change buying behavior. Today, on Endangered Species Day, this coalition -- the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance -- is unveiling a new logo.

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The Alliance's logo does not single out any particular animal. Instead, it stylistically represents the reality that many species -- including pangolins and many other relatively unknown animals -- are being killed so their parts can be sold into global markets. Today it is elephants that are being killed for their ivory. Tomorrow, it will be another animal. We must break the pattern and stigmatize trade in illegal wildlife parts of all kinds.

Alliance members will be using the new logo and its accompanying tag line -- "Be Informed, Buy Informed" -- as they join with other voices to rid our markets of illegal wildlife products.

What makes the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance unique is the coalition of interests that it represents, and its enormous reach to customers, suppliers, and the general public. The Alliance's immediate focus is on the U.S. role in the wildlife trafficking crisis, but there is no doubt that the powerful global brands represented in the Alliance will influence international markets as well.

The Alliance already includes major brand names like Tiffany's, Ralph Lauren, and Berkshire Hathaway; big players in e-commerce like eBay, Google, Etsy and LiveAuctioneers,com; media organizations like the Discovery Channel and National Geographic; companies in the travel and tourism business, like JetBlue, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean; and the largest zoos and aquariums in the U.S. (members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) that welcome tens of millions of visitors each year.

These big name companies are connected, through the Alliance, with non-profit powerhouses like the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the African Wildlife Foundation, among many others identified on the Alliance's website at uswta.org. And the U.S. government also is working closely with the Alliance through a Task Force that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Look for the Alliance's logo and tag line in the days and weeks ahead. If we collectively do this right, we can turn the corner on the wildlife trafficking crisis, setting us up for a blow-out celebration of Endangered Species Day when it comes around again next year.

* David J. Hayes is the Chair of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. He was the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Clinton and Obama Administrations. Twitter: @djhayes01