Thank you for the kind introduction. I would also like to thank the University of Pretoria Center for Wildlife Management and the Mammal Research Institute for hosting us today. I am honored to share this panel with Mr. Fundesile Mketeni from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Dr. Mike Knight of the IUCN, both experts in the field and deeply involved in fighting the horrible scourge of rhino poaching happening in South Africa. And, I welcome Julian Rademeyer as our moderator. His knowledge of the situation and criminal networks will guide us in a meaningful discussion today.
The U.S. Department of State has long considered wildlife trafficking to be a critical conservation issue. However, wildlife trafficking and poaching have exploded in the past several years into a large-scale, commercial illicit enterprise with increasing involvement by transnational criminal groups. This trend has made wildlife crime a particularly high priority for me. Moreover, ending wildlife trafficking is a high priority for me personally because I lived in East Africa for a year. I spent several months as an assistant game guide in the region’s majestic parks. I also visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and Etosha National Park in Namibia. I saw many of Africa’s animals up close and personal and came to love and admire them.
During my visit to southern Africa last year with Secretary Clinton, we heard firsthand of the devastation the brutal poachers are causing for the populations of these majestic animals, and the communities which depend on them. Communities suffer when their wildlife is slaughtered and stolen, both economically and personally. From the rising numbers of rangers and eco-guards murdered from Kenya to Cameroon, and across the continent, we see that the toll of poaching and trafficking is not counted in the horrible slaughter of animal lives alone. The insecurity spread by lawless, armed poachers—criminal syndicates and gangs—crossing national borders with impunity adds risk to daily life and prevents these communities from developing sustainable means of economic prosperity. Very few companies are willing to invest in a place where physical security is virtually non-existent, and tourists that would otherwise come and pay to view wildlife roaming freely likewise will spend their money in safer places.
Reducing demand is central to stopping the illegal trade in wildlife.
Our governments and citizens cannot afford to stand idle while poachers and wildlife traffickers hunt and slaughter elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears, or any species often to extinction. The Department of State has elevated our efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. I have made this a top priority of my job. Former Secretary Hillary Clinton hosted an event at the State Department last fall – a Call to Action from governments, businesses, NGOs, and citizens to enhance their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. She also called for an intelligence assessment to help us understand the networks involved and identify how these products and associate financial flows are moving across borders. We are doing a lot to increase action to combat wildlife trafficking. Over the last year, I have hosted roundtable discussions with Ambassadors in Washington, D.C. to discuss how wildlife demand and supply countries can work together.
During my recent trip to China, I had very useful and concrete discussions with Chinese leaders on improving enforcement efforts and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products in both of our countries. In recent months our Embassies and consulates around the world have stepped up their efforts to support governments that are seeking to stop wildlife slaughter and trafficking. Our missions are actively highlighting the issue through public outreach efforts, such as roundtable discussions, film screenings, and web chats.
Internationally, we recently were able to elevate wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime” through a resolution passed at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which the United States and Peru co-sponsored. Under UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, “serious crimes” receive minimum sentences of four years in prison. In many instances wildlife smugglers are released after paying fines significantly lower than the value of the illegal goods, so for them the risk is well worth the reward. To them, fines are simply the cost of doing business, not a punishment or deterrent.
We also support law enforcement training through our International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs) programs in Gaborone and Bangkok. These centers provide law enforcement training to strengthen wildlife crime investigations. Since 2005 we have worked with other governments and international partners, the CITES Secretariat, Interpol, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization, to establish regional Wildlife Enforcement Networks or WENs. We were pleased to sponsor the first global meeting of the WENs During the CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok this past March, we called for the creation of a global system of regional wildlife enforcement networks.
We believe that increasing communication and coordination across the numerous existing and emerging regional wildlife enforcement networks will increase their own success while enhancing the global efforts to confront the transnational aspects of wildlife trafficking. We welcome the interest of other regions to establish WENs or similar cooperative arrangements. We must work together to stem the tide of destruction before it is too late. Stopping wildlife crime is an urgent matter. It is a major challenge and something we must do for our children, our grandchildren, and generations to come.
Thank you again for your participation today and for your interest in and commitment to protecting our planet’s wildlife.