Press Briefing on Wildlife Trafficking in Africa
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Opening Remarks – As Prepared
Thank you, it’s great to join you on this call to discuss wildlife trafficking.
Wildlife trafficking is a multibillion dollar transnational organized crime activity and a critical conservation issue. It pushes iconic species to the brink of extinction, restricts economic development, threatens security and stability, and undermines the rule of law.
Stopping wildlife trafficking is a priority for the U.S. government, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which I help lead, plays a key role in the development and implementation of anti-wildlife trafficking policies around the world.
In many respects, wildlife trafficking is not terribly different from other violent, destructive, bloody, and profitable criminal enterprises. INL, therefore, has found that the tools and resources we developed fighting other forms of trafficking can also be applied to the wildlife arena.
INL brings to this fight decades’ worth of expertise, which we developed mostly by countering transnational criminal organizations that traffic in drugs. The resources at our disposal to combat wildlife trafficking have grown exponentially, from less than $100,000 five years ago, to $50 million this year.
Organized crime cares little for national borders. Therefore, it is up to all of us to work internationally to stop not only poaching, but also the movement of illegal wildlife goods. If these criminals cannot find safe haven for their destructive, bloody activities in one jurisdiction, but are able to in others, then our ability to stop them is greatly diminished.
With this in mind, we strive to help partner nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America improve their enforcement; investigative, prosecutorial, and legislative capacities; and cooperation within and across governments. To date, our training efforts have reached over 2,000 justice sector officials worldwide who combat wildlife trafficking, including conservation law enforcement officers.
Our work on the African continent spans multiple sub-regions, including East, Central, and Southern Africa.
In Africa alone, we have provided survival, surveillance, and investigative equipment and training to rangers in over 20 parks in eight countries. In many cases, this has included emergency medical training to increase the odds that rangers survive violent encounters with poachers.
We are also working to build connections between source regions of Africa, Latin America, and Asia for wildlife products with the demand countries. We do this by funding exchange visits and joint trainings to build trust, exchange information, and eventually take down whole networks of traffickers instead of individual poachers.
Additionally, we support research to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information about the scope of wildlife trade around the world. For example, we have commissioned new research into the illicit trade in wildlife products, including Pangolins – the world’s most trafficked mammal.
Our efforts abroad are producing results:
Through an INL-funded agreement with the World Customs Organization (WCO), customs officials from 10 African countries collaborated on Operation Save REP (rhinos, elephants, and pangolins), resulting in the seizure of over 80 kilograms of rhino horn, 540 kilograms of ivory, and 68 kilograms of pangolin scales. The operation was a culmination of the WCO's phased training to combat wildlife trafficking, which included training on enforcement, intelligence, and operation planning. INL is continuing to work with the WCO to build interdiction capacity in Africa and expand training in Southeast Asia.
Recognizing that the ability to bring criminals to justice is another key component in the fight against wildlife trafficking, INL also funds programs that help build justice sector capacity. For example, a Tanzanian prosecutor who participated in an INL-funded United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime training program used what he learned to successfully prosecute two people charged with trafficking over $1.3 million worth of illegal ivory. Thanks to his training, the individuals were given especially lengthy prison sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.
The United States Government will continue to lead global efforts to end the gruesome trafficking of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species. We stand ready to work together with more partner nations in this effort.
Thank you once again for joining me and I am happy to take your questions.