Thank you Stuart for the kind introduction. I would also like to thank Meridian International for hosting today’s event and to extend a warm welcome to our international visitors, many of whom have devoted their lives to protecting our planet’s wildlife. Your service and commitment are commendable.
Having lived in Kenya and Tanzania earlier in my life, I experienced firsthand the wonder of African elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife in their native habitats. So, I feel—like you—a personal sense of outrage at the senseless and immoral killing of wildlife. I am also deeply alarmed by the ruthlessness shown by poachers and their connection to other criminal activities, which undermine security and stability in many of your home countries.
The Department of State has always considered wildlife trafficking a critical conservation issue. However, poaching has reached such critical levels, it is now an issue of national security, the rule of law, health, and economic development. Transnational criminal groups are increasingly involved in the illicit trade. Large-scale commercial wildlife trafficking—driven by skyrocketing demand for wildlife products—now threatens security and stability in countries across Africa and parts of Asia.
We collectively share a responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and support the development and security of countries suffering from wildlife trafficking. Our governments and citizens cannot afford to stand idle while poachers and wildlife traffickers hunt elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears, or any species to extinction.
Reducing demand is central to stopping the illegal trade in wildlife. Many consumers of wildlife products simply do not understand that animals—and in some cases people—die in order to support their thirst for rhino horn or ivory.
To reduce demand, we need to educate people—make them aware that what they are buying is illegal, that their actions support criminal networks, that endangered animals are being killed, and that people are suffering as a direct result of their actions.
We also need to better understand the illegal wildlife trade itself. We need to identify the networks involved, follow the money flows, and root out corrupt officials who are complicit in these crimes.
Wildlife range, transit, and destination countries need to adopt a whole-of-government approach to this problem. Not just wildlife, parks, or environment agencies, but also police, customs and border officials, justice and foreign affairs ministries, prosecutors and judges, and even the military in some cases must work together to address all aspects of this transnational crime.
The Department of State is committed to stopping the illegal wildlife trade. We are focusing our diplomatic engagement to catalyze political action at the highest levels, raising public awareness, identifying training and technology opportunities, and expanding our partnerships with NGO and private sector partners. In fact, I just returned from China, where I had some very frank and useful discussions with their leaders on improving enforcement efforts and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products. And, over the past few months, I have held two Ambassadorial roundtables to discuss how wildlife demand and supply countries can better collaborate.
My colleagues at the State Department are equally committed to stopping the illegal wildlife trade. Our Embassies around the world are highlighting the issue through public outreach efforts, such as roundtable discussions, film screenings, and web chats. Our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs supports the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) program in Gaborone and Bangkok. These centers provide law enforcement training to strengthen wildlife crime investigations.
Although our commitment to conservation and enforcement is strong, the United States cannot stand alone if we are to be successful. That’s why we have called for—and have helped support—the creation of a global system of regional wildlife enforcement networks that takes advantage of those networks that already are operating and the lessons we have learned from them. We believe that increasing communication and coordination across the various regional wildlife enforcement networks will increase their own success while enhancing the global effort to confront the transnational aspects of wildlife trafficking.
Increasing communication and coordination is also a central objective of this International Visitors program.
I urge you to be frank in your conversations and to share hard-lessons that you have learned so that others can benefit. Thank you again for your participation and for your service to protecting our planet’s wildlife.