About the Author: Billie Gross serves as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science at the U.S. Department of State.
As the black market wildlife trade continues to flourish, the Department of State remains steadfast in its efforts to highlight this critical issue and to spread public awareness of the problem. To continue the momentum spurred by the highly successful Harrison Ford PSAs, the Department of State has once again partnered with WildAid.
Today, in recognition of World Environment Day, the U.S. State Department is showcasing two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) featuring conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall. Dr. Goodall, a world renowned primatologist and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, agreed to film the PSAs to further spread the message that reducing demand for illegally trafficked goods will prevent the killing of endangered species. These PSAs were filmed in New York City in September 2008 and are now being distributed to overseas audiences with the help of U.S. embassies around the world.
The illicit trade in wildlife amounts to at least $10 billion a year globally and is an even greater threat to wildlife than the loss of their habitat. Many of the animals currently being captured, killed and trafficked are at the brink of extinction, and the demand for these goods is pushing these creatures ever closer to the edge. Ultimately, extinctions have grave impacts for ecosystems and human communities as well.
The Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), initiated in 2005, focuses public and political attention and resources on ending the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Members of the CAWT include the governments of Australia, Canada, India and the United Kingdom as well as a host of other nongovernmental organizations.
The U.S. works with its CAWT partners to improve wildlife law enforcement by expanding enforcement training, information sharing and strengthening regional cooperative networks. CAWT works to energize high-level political will to fight wildlife trafficking by broadening support at the highest political levels for actions to combat the illegal trade in wildlife. It also focuses its efforts on reducing consumer demand for illegally traded wildlife by raising awareness of the impacts of illegal wildlife trade.
Awareness is critical because we may be contributing to the illegal wildlife trade simply by unknowingly purchasing goods that are a result of that trade. It’s very easy to find tourist souvenirs made from illegally harvested ivory, tortoise shells, feathers, fur, bones, skins or other products originating from endangered species. The sale of these products not only puts many species at risk of extinction, but also supports criminal activity. Wildlife trafficking also contributes to global health problems because diseases such as avian influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola and tuberculosis can cross species lines and jump from animals to humans.
The United States is the second-largest consumer market (after China) in terms of demand for illegal wildlife products. In light of this, the messages narrated by Dr. Jane Goodall have resonance not only for a global audience, but also for all of us closer to home.