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When Alli Goldman, wildlife inspector at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), led me into her office’s property room, I was flabbergasted by what I saw: stuffed lions, sea turtles, alligators, pangolins, birds, a tiger, a polar bear carpet and an alligator purse with the heads still on, jaguar claws, intricate ivory carvings, granulated tiger bones, snake skin, cheetah coats, and so much more. The most disturbing piece of this collection was an elephant foot which served as a chair and had a zebra cover.
All these goods were seized during inspections of imports and exports of international air and ocean cargo; for example, passenger baggage or mail shipments. Travelers – hunters, tourists, and natives alike – either did not possess a permit for them, tried to smuggle them, or simply were oblivious to the fact that their souvenirs or medicinal products stem from protected animals. Goldman’s job is to catch these illegal imports, issue fines, inspect incoming wildlife shipments, and, most importantly, guard the endangered species of our planet.
When she discovered her first African trophy shipment, a full elephant skull, Alli broke out in tears. Soon, she came to realize that this would be the unfortunate nature of her job, with which she still struggles at times. On much better days, Alli gets to inspect live shipments of animals such as red pandas, tigers, penguins, and monkeys, one of which is The Hangover movie series’ “actor” Crystal.
Seized live animals are removed from commercial activity and donated to public institutions such as zoos, aquariums, or exhibits.
Because about 80% of live corals for the US enter through LAX, Alli inspects a lot of coral shipments on a regular day. Live birds and reptiles, and wildlife products such as exotic leathers are commonly examined as well, followed by rarer live shipments of tigers, monkeys, leopards, and other rare creatures.
While still attending university and without any idea about the job of a wildlife inspector, Alli went to a presentation about government jobs and landed herself an interview. When she met with the former manager of the wildlife inspectors’ office, she was thrilled to hear that she could combine her sense of justice with her love for animals. For people who are interested in her job, she recommends they “get a 4-year degree in a related field such as biology or criminal justice” and to secure an internship. Additionally, interested candidates should not only have a passion for animals, but also for constant learning, working in a team, and the environment.
When other people ask Alli about her job, they’re always “in awe” she says. They love it, and so does she: “I love getting to learn about all of the different species and interact with rare animals that I might not even see in a zoo. It feels great at the end of the day to know that I am working hard to combat extinction and ensure that these amazing animals will be around for future generations.”