Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action

November 9, 2012
Elephants Gather to Drink at Watering Hole

We can do more to build public awareness about the destructive ramifications of wildlife trafficking.

That was the key rallying point at a meeting that I convened recently with members of the wildlife NGO community -- all of them working in different ways to address trafficking, whether through lobbying governments, supporting law enforcement efforts, building awareness campaigns, or working with partners to create change.

In this, I was joined by Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Robert Hormats, and Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, two of the many key State Department officials helping to lead international efforts to address and respond to wildlife trafficking.

The purpose of the meeting was not to revisit the hard work we are all doing, however. It was to explore ways in which we can use social media and public events to send the world some powerful messages about the importance of safeguarding wildlife. And I was proud and buoyed by the thoughtful, vigorous discussion of ideas by passionate, committed people intent to help curb the slaughter of these animals before it is too late.

We talked about some of the operational challenges we face, including the reluctance of some governments to enforce laws, and the lack of unity in laws -- as ivory is legal in some situations and regions but not in others. But we agreed that these should not deter us from issuing key messages.

Those messages, we agreed, should point out that, as long as poachers continue to slaughter and exploit wildlife, aided and abetted by governments, organized crime and consumers, we face an irreversible threat to our ecology, environment, economies, and security. We should also underscore our moral obligation to protect our fellow creatures. By standing up to protect wildlife and condemn the barbaric practices of trafficking, we can all stand on the right side of history and encourage others to do the same.

All agreed on the need for vigorous efforts to educate and increase awareness in all countries in the trafficking supply and demand chain -- from the countries that have wildlife habitats, to the countries that allow trade and transportation, to the many countries where the final products are bought and sold.

All concurred that we need to focus on constituencies around the world who purchase commodities based on the desire for social status or mistaken ideas about their medical benefits. We discussed creating an online "pledge" campaign among young people -- especially in critical regions of Asia -- to refrain from buying wildlife products.

Condemnation will not be as effective as offering alternative options or arguments -- in this, we were in total agreement. Some examples of that included offering individuals the opportunity to protect cheetahs at large instead of owning them as exotic pets; or pointing out the economic benefits of wildlife as a source of eco-tourism revenue versus the inevitable outcome of slaughtering endangered species.

We learned of the many innovative things that wildlife advocates are already doing. They include an app that identifies animals that should be protected and allows people to report illegal trafficking. They also include recruiting religious leaders to support messages about conservation; encouraging websites to help ban the online trade in wildlife products; and informing tourists to hunting regions about the products that they should not purchase.

Under Secretary Hormats and Assistant Secretary Jones discussed the State Department's work in conserving wildlife, and addressing wildlife trafficking, which is also addressed by our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

We also announced some other initiatives we are launching -- including yesterday's event at the State Department, where Secretary Clinton convened ambassadors, NGO representatives and corporate officials, to a diplomatic event devoted to wildlife trafficking. On December 4, we will continue to build public awareness about trafficking by marking Wildlife Conservation Day with events at our embassies and consulates around the world. Among our scheduled activities are a web-chat featuring Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet and a special video message from Secretary Clinton.

The challenges continue, and we agreed to keep finding more ways to address them -- together and in partnership across the public, private and NGO sectors. We look forward to the outcomes we can achieve by working together.

Related Content: Fact Sheet on U.S. Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking and Promote Conservation | Wildlife and Foreign Policy -- What's the Connection?



Sachin V.
February 19, 2013

Sachin V. in India writes:

Sometimes it is our ignorance that poses serious challenges to a species. Making people aware about wildlife conservation is half the battle won. Social media can act as an enabler and be proved helpful in spreading the awareness. Government agencies and private entities, both should work hand in hand to make this world a better place to the fellow children of mother nature.


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