Welcome Secretary Clinton, distinguished Ambassadors and Members of Congress, and my other colleagues from the U.S. Government, as well as our guests from the all-important conservation community and private sector.
I am delighted to see all of you here at the Department today for what is, in many respects, an historic event. This is the first time the State Department has organized such a high-level discussion on the issue of wildlife trafficking. We are extraordinarily grateful for your leadership on this issue, Madam Secretary, for your participation here today, and for your commitment and passion on this subject.
Our decision to organize this meeting today flows from our conviction that the nature of wildlife trafficking is changing. We have always considered wildlife trafficking a critical conservation issue, and have been leaders in both global and national efforts to conserve wildlife.
But new transnational criminal groups – well-funded criminal syndicates – are increasingly involved in the illicit trade. And the poachers have vastly increased weaponry. Large-scale wildlife trafficking has come to threaten the security, stability, and rule of law in countries across Africa and parts of Asia. And it also affects the security and stability of many nations, with a direct impact on the foreign policy interests of the United States. All of these realities underlie the urgency of today’s meeting.
This issue has deep roots for me. During graduate school I spent a year in East Africa. I worked as an assistant wildlife guide in some of East Africa’s national parks. Many of you in this room also have had the opportunity to see elephants, rhinos, lions or other animals in their native habitat. And like me, you have been profoundly moved by this experience. So, for me, poaching is also deeply personal -- and a moral outrage.
The recent high rates of poaching threatens many species with extinction and threatens the heritage of local communities. But this is not just an African, or Asian problem. Many species of reptiles and birds and fish are also trafficked as part of the pet trade or fashion industry and goods, and the United States is a major importer of wildlife and wildlife products.
I had the opportunity to join Secretary Clinton during her trip to Africa this summer. We saw and heard firsthand the importance of wildlife to the heritage and the livelihoods of many local communities. We also spoke with leaders in South Africa about their concerns regarding the recent, extraordinarily high rates of poaching in their country. They told us about their government’s inability to protect vast areas of national parks, and of the larger-scale and more militarized assault on wildlife.
Today, we have invited all of you here: to share our concerns with you, to identify some of the concrete actions that we are taking to address this important challenge, and to ask you to join us in our efforts and to undertake your own actions to stop this destructive and senseless killing.
We have a great lineup of speakers today, beginning with Secretary Clinton.
But before I invite the Secretary to the microphone, please join me in viewing a short presentation of very powerful public service announcements our partners in the conservation community have provided.