Conservation & Research

ATLANTA (May 13, 2024) – Illegal wildlife trafficking is a rampant and serious problem that most people don’t know much about, but it is leading to the decimation of endangered species around the globe. Over the past decade, more than 50,000 live animals have been illegally trafficked into the United States.  Conducted by increasingly sophisticated criminal syndicates, it’s a multi-billion-dollar transnational trade, lagging only drugs, arms, and human trafficking in profitability.

Every year, U.S. law enforcement officials seize thousands of animals trafficked across our borders and through ports of entry, and the Southeast is among the busiest for this work. Too often, illegally smuggled wildlife is malnourished, in poor condition, or doesn’t survive the ordeal. Zoos and aquariums are frequently called upon by wildlife officers to urgently treat and house rescued species. News of these rescues is rarely shared publicly because the confiscations become legal cases that must be handled with discretion.

Georgia Aquarium is a longstanding, trusted partner to wildlife law enforcement officers. The Aquarium has provided expert care for nearly 1,000 confiscated animals, providing a safe haven, medical treatment, long-term care, and, in some cases, a forever home. Nearly half of all the confiscated animals taken in by the Aquarium are corals – and that number continues to climb. “Coral reefs support some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet,” said Kim Stone, director of fishes and invertebrates at Georgia Aquarium. “Thousands of marine animals depend on coral reefs for survival – they provide shelter, spawning grounds and protection from predators. They also support organisms at the base of ocean food chains. As reef ecosystems collapse, already at-risk species may face extinction.”


The Aquarium currently has more than 250 confiscated animals in its permanent exhibits. In addition to coral, the Aquarium built an entire exhibit dedicated to freshwater motoro rays that were confiscated in 2017 and are now part of the Aquarium’s permanent residents – and an important guest touch point where docents talk about the dangers of wildlife trafficking.


Now, Georgia Aquarium is leading an effort to bring an innovative conservation initiative to the Southeast region to combat this grave problem. On April 23rd, the Aquarium hosted a meeting of U.S. government and state wildlife enforcement representatives, zoos, aquariums, and other animal-care facilities to explore creating a Wildlife Confiscations Network in the Southeast.  An innovative conservation initiative led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Wildlife Confiscations Network first launched in October 2023 as a pilot program in Southern California. Since then, more than 1,300 animals have received care and placement through the network.


The meeting laid the groundwork for developing a formalized system for emergency response when wildlife is confiscated and requires immediate, specialized medical care and housing. It’s an important step to provide relief for this intensifying problem that highlights the critically important role of accredited zoos and aquariums in providing world-class care for wildlife at a moment’s notice when no other resources are available.


“As a community of conservationists, we are united in our commitment to safeguard the planet’s precious biodiversity,” said Stone. “Georgia Aquarium’s goal is to create a network that serves as a lifeline for all species caught in the crosshairs of illegal trafficking.”


Stay tuned for more updates on the progress of this important resource in our efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and prevent further harm to endangered species around the globe.



Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its engaging exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its eight major galleries.

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