Claudia A. McMurray is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science.
I recently watched with great interest the CNN documentary, “Planet in Peril”, as it covered in-depth many of the issues that my staff and I work on daily. I don’t think that many people know that the U.S. Department of State is actively involved in a wide range of international environmental issues, such as over fishing of our oceans, protecting coral reefs, climate change, and wildlife conservation. I have a strong personal commitment to combating the illegal trade of endangered species.
That is why I was so pleased that CNN aired an in-depth documentary which highlighted the need for us all to work together to stop the illegal trade. Wildlife trafficking is an insidious crime that threatens species with extinction, contributes to the spread of diseases and is often linked to organized crime, involving many of the same culprits and smuggling routes as trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons.
Many governments are very much committed to combating these crimes – and at the highest levels. To address this problem the United States formed the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), a unique, voluntary public-private coalition of likeminded governments and organizations that share a common purpose. Coalition partners include: Australia, Canada, Chile, the Republic of India, the United Kingdom, the United States and thirteen international non-governmental organizations (NGO), including Wildlife Alliance. The Coalition’s goal is to stop the flow of these products by strengthening wildlife law enforcement, reducing consumer demand for illegally traded wildlife, and catalyzing high-level political will to fight wildlife trafficking.
To meet these goals, the U.S.-led coalition has been active on a number of fronts. First, we helped create the Wildlife Enforcement Network of the ASEAN nations. The network is designed to improve communication and the sharing of information among countries that share borders and cannot combat the illegal activity alone. Just in the short time this network has been operating there have been many success stories, including returning 48 orangutans to Indonesia from Thailand, and breaking up several cross-boarder smuggling rings.
The U.S. government has also been actively involved in training customs inspectors, police, park and forest officials, prosecutors and judges in methods of apprehending criminals, protecting important evidence and presenting cases in court – all to ensure that criminals are actually punished for this activity.
Finally, the U.S. and CAWT are working to increase public awareness so that consumers will stop buying these products. Last year, Secretary of State Rice appointed Bo Derek as her Special Envoy for Wildlife Trafficking Issues. Just last week, Ms. Derek and I traveled to Miami to bring attention to the issue. In the near future, a Public Service Announcement by Harrison Ford will appear worldwide.
As you can see then, the United States and other governments are very engaged on this issue. Can we use more help? You bet. We hope programs like “Planet in Peril” and the individual efforts of everyone around the world to stop buying these products will move us closer to ending the illegal trade.
For more information on the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, please visit our website at http://www.cawtglobal.org/cawt/public/home.