Obama Orders U.S. Agencies to Fight Global Wildlife Trafficking

A shipment of elephant tusks intercepted by law enforcement officials (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)


DAR es SALAAM, Tanzania, July 1, 2013 (ENS) – During a state visit to Tanzania today, President Barack Obama said his administration will put new energy and funds into fighting wildlife trafficking, which he called “an international crisis that continues to escalate.”

In a news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, President Obama said, “Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife, so today I issued a new executive order to better organize U.S. government efforts in this fight so that we can cooperate further with the Tanzanian government and others.”

Obama motorcade
People line the street as President Barack Obama’s motorcade makes its way to the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Obama’s executive order creates a high-level interagency Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. Within six months, the Task Force will develop a national strategy to fight wildlife trafficking “and to consider how the U.S. transnational organized crime strategy can be used to combat the issue, as it does other serious crimes like human trafficking and arms trafficking.”

To offer ongoing advice and assistance, within six months the Task Force will create an eight-member Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking made up of people from the private sector, former U.S. government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations.

“Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates,” the executive order states.

Obama directs the task force to focus on anti-poaching, regional law enforcement, law enforcement mechanisms, and reducing illicit trade and demand both in the United States and abroad, “while allowing legal and legitimate commerce involving wildlife.”

The new initiative “includes additional millions of dollars to help countries across the region build their capacity to meet this challenge,” Obama told reporters in Dar es Salaam, “because the entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”

The White House announced that up to $10 million in new financial support has been set aside to help tackle poaching for ivory and rhino horn. This funding includes approximately $3 million in bilateral assistance to South Africa, $3 million in bilateral assistance to Kenya, and $4 million in regional assistance throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Rhino poaching statistics released by the South African government in January show that a record 668 rhinos were killed across the country in 2012, an increase of nearly 50 percent from the 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011.

Elephant poaching levels are the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989, according to statistics provided in 2012 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

A shipment of smuggled elephant tusks intercepted by law enforcement officials (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC)

SOS Elephants, a nonprofit organization based in Chad, estimates that 30,000 to 38,000 African elephants are poached every year for their ivory tusks, now more valuable than gold. “With statistics like this the African elephant is doomed for extinction in 15-20 years, unless we can put a stop to these illegal
activities through education and alternative recourses for income in communities that assist in the ivory trade,” says SOS Elephants.

“The survival of protected wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna, and turtles has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations,” Obama states in the executive order.

“Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security,” he writes.

The executive order also recognizes that prevention of trafficking in live animals helps control the spread of emerging infectious diseases.

Environmental groups that have worked for decades to fight wildlife trafficking were pleased with Obama’s announcement.

Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the global conservation group WWF, said, “President Obama’s commitment to help stop the global crime wave that is emptying the continent’s forests and savannas is welcome news. It gives a critical boost for everyone involved in fighting wildlife trafficking – from rangers on the ground to local conservation groups to decision-makers around the globe.”

dead elephant
Remains of an elephant killed for ivory (Photo courtesy TRAFFIC from 2012 report “Elephants in the Dust.”

“The planet’s most majestic species are being massacred for nothing nobler than vacation trinkets, hangover remedies and false promises of miracle cancer cures,” warned Roberts. “These syndicates are robbing Africa of its wealth.”

“The future of our wild world rests in our hands, and now we must move with all due speed to make sure elephants, rhinos and other extraordinary creatures don’t disappear forever,” he said.

Dr. Cristián Samper, who heads the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo, said, “For all of the terrible news about elephants coming from Central Africa over the past several months, it is heartening to know that President Obama and his administration are calling for a coordinated strategy to stop the slaughter. We know that the problem is widespread and will take sustained efforts to curtail it, and the creation of a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking is a much-needed and welcome step in the right direction.”

The British charity Care for the Wild International is asking all the G8 nations to make similar commitments.

Philip Mansbridge, chief exective of Care for the Wild, which has been running a “G8 or Too Late campaign,” said, “Care for the Wild have been calling on the G8 nations to divert what would be a tiny amount of foreign aid money into an existing plan to stamp out elephant poaching. The USA has stepped up – now we need to see the UK and other countries joining forces.”

“Elephants and rhinos are dying in huge numbers, and the scale of the poaching now means that this is a world problem, not something individual countries should have to deal with alone,” said Mansbridge. “President Obama’s pledge and cash is a vital first step in turning international awareness of this problem into international action.”

At its June 17-18 meeting, the G8 leaders did act, at least on paper. Their final communiqué placed the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife alongside fighting corruption, transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking of drugs and people.

Recognizing the threats posed by wildlife trafficking, G8 leaders agreed to “…take action to tackle the illegal trafficking of protected or endangered wildlife species.”

John Scanlon, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, was encouraged by the outcome of the G8 Summit on wildlife trafficking.

“The support shown by G8 Leaders to combating the illegal trafficking of wildlife is timely and welcomed, especially given the links between illegal trade in ivory and funding criminal gangs like the Lord’s Resistance Army,” said Scanlon, referring to the militant movement in central Africa.

“Such high-level support could not have come at a better time and it builds upon the outcomes of the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Vladivostok and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), both held in 2012, as well as other high-level commitments.”

“The recognition shown by G8 Leaders is in line with the benefits provided by CITES through its regulation of international wildlife trade in a sustainable, legal and traceable manner,” said Scanlon. “This conserves wildlife while also providing sustainable livelihoods for indigenous and local communities that rely on the use of biodiversity.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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