March has been a good month for wildlife.
At its annual meeting, held in Bangkok, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to place new trade limits on sharks, mantas, and turtles for the first time in nearly a decade.
This is an important step in countering a fishing trade that claims the lives of 100 million sharks a year. There is also widespread fishing of mantas, in response to strong demand in Asia -- where many believe mantas' gill plates have invigorating medicinal qualities. Turtles have existed for 300 million years but are now in serious trouble around the world as they are frequently used as food and in traditional medicines in Asia, and their use in the pet trade is also a growing challenge.
The global meeting of wildlife enforcement networks also committed to scaling up regional enforcement capacity and coordination to respond to the serious threat posed by wildlife criminal networks that exploit animals for body parts or as trinkets.
For our part, at the State Department, we continue to engage in public education and outreach for all endangered wildlife on land and at sea. And we continue to underscore the many reasons for protecting wildlife, from its moral and environmental implications to the ways that large scale poaching and trafficking support international crime and threaten the livelihoods and economic growth opportunities of local communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere.
Our efforts include launching initiatives like the Wildlife Conservation Day Pledge, created by the Department and 13 conservation NGOs and international governmental organizations (IGOs), to enlist public support for the fight against wildlife trafficking.
They also include inviting expert speakers to engage global audiences, such as Julie Scardina, a professional animal trainer and educator, as well as a board member of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, which supports conservation education, habitat protection, species research, and animal rescue and rehabilitation around the globe.
This week at the State Department, Scardina hosted two web chats with global audiences and discussed issues pertaining to wildlife trafficking. She also underscored the importance of multilateral treaties such as CITES -- which was created to ensure that international trade in plants and animals does not endanger wild species or biodiversity.
Her visit was a follow-up to our first Wildlife Conservation Day web chat where speakers, including renowned conservationist Jeff Corwin, engaged virtually with more than 20,000 people from 51 countries. We will continue to invite experts to share important information about protecting wildlife and biodiversity with audiences around the world.
It is encouraging to see more and more voices, including private citizens and representatives from the non-governmental (NGO), government, and private sectors, energized about this important issue and encouraging the public to stop buying ivory and rhino horns, shark and manta parts, animal skins, exotic birds, or other endangered plants or animals and their products. The public awareness campaign to build awareness of endangered tigers, cosponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (makers of Life of Pi), is one of many such examples.
Building on our long and proud history in supporting wildlife conservation -- which goes back for more than 100 years -- the Department of State will remain committed to the cause as long as our wildlife and shared environments are at risk.