The illegal trade in wildlife is a global challenge that demands a global response, an international panel of officials agreed at a meeting held as part of the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, on behalf of the Obama administration, hosted four African heads of state, including President Hifikepunye Pohamba of the Republic of Namibia, President Faure Gnassingbé of the Togolese Republic, President Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania and President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Gabonese Republic, in a conversation on strategies for combating wildlife trafficking.
Participating U.S. officials included Under Secretary of State Catherine Novelli, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Judith Garber, U.S. Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator Eric Postel and acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Michael Boots.
The conversation also included several other African leaders, leaders of key nongovernmental organizations and Young African Leaders Initiative participants.
The session aimed to build on progress made since President Obama visited Africa in 2013 and to identify areas where the U.S. and African nations can continue to collaborate.
The four African leaders agreed to work with the United States to strengthen regional and international cooperation and also discussed efforts within their respective governments to meet this challenge. Because wildlife trafficking undermines economic development, the leaders cited the need to engage local communities, including youth, in conservation efforts.
Like other forms of illicit trade, wildlife trafficking undermines security across nations. Well-armed, well-equipped, well-organized networks of criminals, insurgent elements and corrupt officials explore porous borders and weak institutions to profit from trading in poached wildlife, according to the Department of the Interior.
Record-high demand for illegally traded wildlife products, coupled with inadequate preventative measures and weak institutions, has resulted in an explosion of illicit trade in wildlife in recent years, and that trade is decimating iconic animal populations. Today, because of the actions of poachers, wild populations of species such as elephants and rhinoceroses have declined significantly and face the prospect of extinction across their natural habitats.
The United States has worked with African governments for years to strengthen their capacity to fight wildlife trafficking by providing training, equipment, uniforms and other tools to help them defend their native wildlife populations. The United States also helps protect Africa’s natural resources by prosecuting criminals who traffic in endangered and protected species in the United States, especially those who traffic in endangered rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory.
To address wildlife trafficking challenges, President Obama issued a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking in February. The strategy identifies three priorities for stemming illegal trade in wildlife: strengthening domestic and global enforcement, reducing global demand and building international cooperation and partnerships. In 2014, the United States will invest more than $60 million in support of these efforts.