Natural History Museum Vienna launches wildlife crime project for schools

27. January 2023
In cooperation with several international and national cooperation partners, including the Austrian Customs Office, researchers of the NHM Vienna have developed a series of workshops and lectures for schoolchildren intended to raise awareness about wildlife crime and species protection. The first workshop was held on 27 January 2023 at the NHM Vienna.
Wildlife crime encompasses a range of offences from illegal poaching to the trafficking of protected wild animals, hunting trophies, fashion articles and works of art, and also the marketing and processing of animal and plant components of endangered species. “Tourists are often unaware that they are in breach of the law when buying seemingly innocuous holiday souvenirs. It’s a painful surprise for them when the souvenirs, usually including animal products, they bought or collected are then confiscated by the customs authorities on arrival and severe penalties are imposed. These offences have dramatic consequences: many species are endangered or threatened by extinction”, says NHM Vienna CEO Dr. Katrin Vohland.
The NHM Vienna is now launching a new project for schoolchildren to raise awareness about national and international wildlife crime. In collaboration with several partner schools in Austria, working groups address the topic according to a variety of aspects. Until December 2024, numerous guided tours, workshops and presentations will be organised in the context of the project. The Austrian Customs Office is also involved: in addition to lectures including Q&A sessions for the students, there will also be workshops and guided tours at the airport.
“We are proud of the many years of great collaboration with the Austrian Finance Ministry and the UNODC. The mutual exchange of know-how and the confiscated items, which are made available for research purposes, not only enrich the knowledge of all those involved but are also welcome additions to the scientific collections,” notes Dr. Silke Schweiger, an expert for amphibians and reptiles at the NHM Vienna and in charge of the new project for schools.
In room 27, the NHM Vienna has installed a display area dedicated to wildlife crime with a special focus on reptiles. Presenting a variety of products made from snakeskin, the area also provides information about the cruel way in which this material is collected. Many snakes are caught illegally and killed. First inflated with water to facilitate removing the skin, the animals are then flayed alive – and left to die a torturous death.
With its controls, the Austrian Customs Office is making an important contribution to the fight against the disappearance of species. Customs authorities are not only in charge of import and export controls, but also of controls of trade activities. The authorities not only conduct species-protection controls in freight traffic and travel (at the airport, for instance), but also across the Austrian national territory – including in the street, at flea markets, in sales establishments or in case of suspicious offers on the internet. In legal terms, the controls are based on the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which has been in force since 1975 and has 184 signatory states. Roughly 8,000 animal and plant species worldwide are endangered or threatened by immediate extinction.
© NHM Wien, C. Rittmannsperger
© NHM Wien, C. Rittmannsperger