Published 27 May 2022


In memory of John Burton, TRAFFIC's first leader

TRAFFIC is deeply saddened at the news of John Burton’s passing last weekend. Many across the organisation knew John personally and were inspired by his compelling advocacy for conservation.

Among his many significant contributions to the environmental sector was laying the very foundations of our organisation.

Following the launch of CITES in 1975, a small volunteer group was set up by the IUCN Survival Service Commission (now the IUCN Species Survival Commission) to gather wildlife trade data, but it was John Burton, when appointed Chairman of this group, who realised that this field warranted the daily attention of a permanent team. To this end, Burton set about gathering funds and assembling staff. Much persistence in the face of a meagre budget, a few name changes and an organisational migration of the original office from London to Cambridge later, TRAFFIC had evolved to be a respected group of wildlife trade experts, with John Burton as its first leader.

We at TRAFFIC have so much to thank John Burton for, both locally, for his major role in the inception of TRAFFIC, and more widely, for his immeasurable contribution to protecting vast extents of land and pioneering new conservation approaches."

Richard Scobey, TRAFFIC's Executive Director

Peter Sand, the Secretary General of CITES at the time that John stepped down from his role at TRAFFIC in 1981, wrote, “No single person is more closely identifiable with the concept, and the cause, of the former IUCN/SSC TRAFFIC Group in London, and with the present unit in Cambridge.  […]while his data and methods sometimes caused official irritation, they usually turned out to be correct."

John’s quest for knowledge about wildlife trade and determination that conservation actions be backed by solid evidence, whether good news or bad, has shaped TRAFFIC’s work and impact for over four decades. He was rightly proud of this legacy and whenever our paths crossed his encouragement was a great boost."

Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC from 1996-2021

After TRAFFIC, John was involved with many other international conservation NGOs, including as Chief Executive of Fauna & Flora International and Founding Chairman of the Bat Conservation Trust. His longest tenure was spent at the World Land Trust, which he founded in 1989 and then spent 30 years as CEO. By spearheading a new practice of buying large areas of land to conserve it and ensure threatened species have somewhere to live, World Land Trust has purchased more than 2,222,247 acres of habitat for protection up until this point.

In addition, John contributed much knowledge and wisdom to conservation understanding and methodology through authoring or editing over 40 books.

Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and all those suffering his loss.