“Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates.” – President Barack Obama, July 1, 2013
Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity that has evolved from a conservation issue to an acute security threat. Wildlife trafficking is a lucrative form of transnational organized crime (TOC), conservatively generating an estimated $8 to $10 billion in illicit profits per year. Wildlife trafficking fuels corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and eco-tourism revenues. Criminal organizations, including some terrorist entities, are increasingly involved in this illicit trade, especially the illegal movement of wildlife from source countries in Africa to consumer countries across East Asia. The United States and Peru successfully co-sponsored a resolution at the UN Crime Commission in April 2013 encouraging Member States to classify wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime,” as defined in the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), not only to provide a greater deterrent to poachers and traffickers but also to unlock tools for international cooperation such as mutual legal assistance available through the UNTOC.
In light of the security threats posed by wildlife trafficking, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order (E.O.) on Combating Wildlife Trafficking in July 2013. The E.O. directed the Departments of State, Interior, and Justice to establish a Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, convene an Advisory Council, and create a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. On behalf of the Task Force, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) developed recommendations to apply the 2011 Strategy to Combat TOC to wildlife trafficking.
In addition to the E.O., the President announced $10 million in INL funding to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa to address law enforcement training and technical needs, to include: 1) strengthening policies and legislative frameworks; 2) enhancing investigative and law enforcement functions; 3) supporting regional wildlife enforcement networks; and 4) developing capacities to prosecute and adjudicate wildlife crimes and related corruption. On demand reduction efforts, INL funded the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to produce two public service announcements on wildlife trafficking, targeting Southeast Asia. INL has also supported the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service to provide additional wildlife investigative training at the International Law Enforcement Academies in Bangkok and Gaborone.
INL is raising wildlife trafficking as a key agenda item in multilateral and bilateral law enforcement and anti-crime fora to build capacity and political will, including through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), UN Crime Commission, World Economic Forum, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and G8 Roma-Lyon Group (RLG). INL is also working bilaterally with our foreign partners to address wildlife trafficking, including through the U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation (JLG) and the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.