Members of the U.S. military based at Fort Drum will have a new mission when they deploy overseas: Helping to stem the illegal wildlife trade.

During the recent Annual Safety Day at the base in upstate New York, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) taught soldiers about the trade and exhibited the skins and pelts of endangered species, as well as other illegal products confiscated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Soldiers who shop for such souvenirs in local markets can unknowingly contribute to the problem. At the event, WCS staff also surveyed servicemen and women about their use and observation of wildlife products while stationed abroad.

“I thank the Wildlife Conservation Society for traveling to Fort Drum to provide this training to our soldiers. This is a good example of private organizations dedicating their time and resources to help our armed forces as they prepare to deploy overseas,” said Congressman John M. McHugh, who represents the Fort Drum region and is currently one of the most senior Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee. “Given that the 10th Mountain Division is one of the most frequently deployed units in the army, providing this knowledge to our soldiers who serve on the frontlines has real world, everyday applications that could assist our service members and help to curtail the illegal wildlife trade.”

Earlier this year, representatives from WCS-Afghanistan held a successful workshop to educate soldiers at Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul, after it was discovered that some had bought illicit wildlife products from traders.

Illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar, global industry second only to the illegal trade in drugs and firearms. It has driven many species to the brink of extinction, from tigers in Southeast Asia, whose bones are sold for traditional medicine, to beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, whose eggs are sold for black market caviar. WCS works around the world to fight illegal wildlife trade by educating potential consumers and joining with local partners to strengthen laws and enforcement.

“We are extremely grateful to have the enthusiastic cooperation of the U.S. military in helping curb the illegal trade in wildlife that is threatening so many species,” said Dr. Heidi Kretser, a scientist in WCS’s Adirondack Program and organizer of the training session. “Because of their world travels, soldiers can make a real difference in helping to stem this troubling trade in increasingly rare wildlife.”