Next time you ship a package, it might make its journey sitting next to the severed head of an African elephant.
Thousands of wildlife products are being flown around the world every day, ferried below unaware passengers on commercial flights or inside massive aircrafts owned by shipping companies.
According to a database of hunting trophies managed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 26,244 wild hunting trophies for personal use were shipped from 2010 to 2014.
Among the items shipped in 2010 alone are thousands of "trophies" or wild animal heads; elephant ears, tails, genitalia, and ivory; turtle eggs; snake and crocodile skins; panther skulls; rhino leather; falcon claws; gray wolf heads; baboon feet; black bear claws; monkey bodies, hippo teeth; and hundreds more.
The issue with some of these shipments, conservationists say, is that they are both abetting the practice of trophy hunting, a practice that's been criticized for depleting wild populations and garnering little benefit for conservation efforts and local communities, and plus the fact that it's an incredibly hard-to-regulate industry, and often results in accidental or illegal kills, like in the case of Cecil the lion.
Meanwhile, wealthy foreign hunters continue to export the carcasses of animals
After the media eruption following the untimely death of Cecil at the hands of an American dentist, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines promptly banned shipments of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo carcasses on their flights. Others, including Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, United, and Virgin, followed suit in the weeks after, bringing the total to over 40 airlines.
A spokesperson for DHL told Motherboard that the company also does not ship big game trophies, and is working on formalizing its policy to reflect that.
FedEx, UPS, and other major shipping companies have yet to make changes concerning shipments of wildlife trophies, however.
A spokesperson for UPS told Motherboard that the company "is strongly against the trafficking or trade of endangered species" but "accepts for shipment taxidermy items that are legally obtained and appropriately documented."
A spokesperson for FedEx said that the company complies with the law regarding the shipment of animal parts, but did not deny that the company ships trophy animal parts and shark fins, as long as they're legal.
There are countless arguments for and against trophy hunting, with conservationists usually falling in one of two camps. The first says that killing wildlife is never a way to preserve a species and that all trophy hunting should be banned, while the second argues that funds from hunters can fuel conservation efforts and support local communities (though there is some debate about that).
Nevertheless, consumer boycotts can be a powerful tool. A petition to UPS demanding that the company stop trophy shipments has already gained over 194,000 signatures, with many of the signers promising not to use UPS services anymore. The author says she was invited to have a meeting with UPS about the issue. A quick look at FedEx's Twitter mentions shows that the company is being bombarded by activists.
Meanwhile, wealthy foreign hunters continue to export the carcasses of animals. An average of 665 wild lions is shipped from Africa each year. With each day that shipping companies delay, another two lion heads are seeing the inside of a cargo hold.