Wildlife Trafficking: Turning Concern Into Action

Posted by Judith Garber
July 31, 2014
Elephants Walk in Amboseli National Park in Southern Kenya

When Satao, one of the oldest and most iconic African elephant tuskers, known worldwide for his monumental tusks was murdered in Kenya this June, the image of his hacked-off face went viral and within days brought millions of people around the globe to tears.  In the cruelest way, people were made aware of the danger wildlife faces.  We cannot wait for another Satao to be killed in order to take action.

Raising awareness about wildlife trafficking and its damaging consequences and taking steps to combat the illegal wildlife trade are high on the international diplomatic foreign policy agenda.  We now recognize that wildlife trafficking -- one of the most lucrative types of transnational organized crime -- is not exclusively a conservation problem.  The additional devastating effects on global security, economic development, and international health demand a united global effort. 

Working together to stop wildlife trafficking, protect natural heritage, and make our world a more secure place is not an easy task, but we are making significant progress.  The United States and China are aware of the dangers posed by wildlife-related crime and its irreversible repercussions.  Last month in Beijing, during the 6th U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary Catherine Novelli, together with China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, reconfirmed their commitment to stamp out the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.  U.S.-China cooperation has already delivered tangible results.  Cobra II, a global cooperative wildlife trafficking enforcement effort, brought hundreds ofarrests of wildlife criminals and  major wildlife seizures across Africa and Asia in February 2014 -- a result that speaks for itself.  Both countries have destroyed significant amounts of seized ivory -- “today’s blood diamond” as Secretary Kerry called it during his remarks at a media event for the S&ED.  These groundbreaking destruction events sent a clear signal that illegal trade in wildlife products will no longer be tolerated.  

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with former NBA player Yao Ming after an anti-wildlife trafficking event on the sidelines of the sixth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing, China on July 9, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Both the United States and China are also working more closely with African governments to prevent and combat wildlife trafficking.  During his visit to Tanzania in July 2013, President Obama pledged $10 million to support law enforcement efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa.  In May 2014, Premier Li Keqiang also pledged $10 million to protect wildlife in Africa.

Fighting wildlife trafficking is no longer the exclusive duty of governments.  From celebrities to ordinary people, everyone can and must take a stand.  For example, Chinese citizen and former NBA player Yao Ming has been actively involved in combating wildlife trafficking.  He took the stage beside Secretary Kerry in Beijing during the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But you do not have to be a celebrity to make a difference.  You can start now by pledging not to buy illegal wildlife products such as ivory, tiger skin rugs, python skin products, or other suspicious goods.  You can say no to shark fin soup or false rhino horn medical treatments.  Click here to join the pledge!

About the Author: Judith Garber serves as Acting Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

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