Africa: U.S. Committed to Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking


By Bridget Hunter, United States Department of State

Date Published
Washington — U.S. officials from four agencies outlined for Congress the scope of the global crisis of illegal trade in endangered species and ways in which the United States is responding to that crisis.

On May 21, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental Affairs Judith Garber, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Brooke Darby, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Dan Ashe and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator Eric Postel testified before subcommittees of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the dramatic escalation in wildlife trafficking.

“This illegal trade has devastating impacts: it threatens security, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption, hinders sustainable economic development, and contributes to the spread of disease,” Garber said, but added the “international community is coming together” to counter wildlife trafficking.

The need for action is urgent, Postel said, citing a 62 percent decline in forest elephant populations in Central Africa between 2002 and 2011, the precarious situation of the world’s largest white rhino population in Africa’s Kruger National Park and illegal shark-finning operations that are pushing some shark species to the brink of extinction.

Ashe pointed out the human cost of the illegal trade, noting that “hundreds of park rangers have been killed in the line of duty” in Africa during the past few years.

The officials cited the National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, released on February 11, as the overarching document guiding U.S. efforts to mitigate the crisis. The strategy’s goals are strengthening enforcement, reducing demand and building partnerships to combat poaching and illegal trade.

Within the framework of that strategy, the United States is committed to a whole-of-government effort “to focus our international investments to combat wildlife trafficking in the most strategic and effective way possible,” Garber said.

Although primary markets for illegal wildlife products are in Asia, “the United States continues to play a role as a consumer and transit country,” Ashe said.”[W]e must be part of the solution.”

The Obama administration established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. Co-chaired by the departments of Interior, Justice and State, it includes representatives of more than a dozen other departments and agencies.

“The Presidential Task Force is developing a detailed implementation plan … to share data, and coordinate law enforcement and conservation efforts across government, both domestically and internationally,” according to Ashe.


Garber said the United States is committed to “working with foreign governments and other partners to enhance the capacity of other countries to fight wildlife trafficking” and it continues to “seek new partnerships and strengthen existing ones.”

Such programs include Operation Crash (aimed at protecting rhinos) and Ivory Crush (an elephant-protection initiative). More broadly, the United States supports emerging wildlife enforcement networks (WENs) around the world. The first of these, ASEAN-WEN, was established in 2005, and has been joined by similar networks in Africa and Latin America.

The United States also is pursuing bilateral wildlife conservation agreements, such as the memorandum of understanding with Indonesia that was signed in February.

Wildlife trafficking does not occur in a vacuum, Darby explained, but instead is intertwined with other threats like corruption, border insecurity, economic instability and financial support for terrorists.

“The high-tech weaponry and violent, aggressive tactics now employed by poachers threaten the safety and security of civilian populations,” she said, adding that “illicit networks undercut the ability of law enforcement to protect citizens, deprive the states of vital revenues, promote corruption and contribute to bad governance.”

On wildlife trafficking, the primary role of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement is “implementing the enforcement and international cooperation goals of the strategy” by working with partner agencies to strengthen legal frameworks, improve law enforcement capabilities with partner agencies, build prosecutorial and judicial capacities and enhance cross-border cooperation, according to Darby.

One recent example of such collaboration is the successful Cobra II operation in February 2014.

“Wildlife trafficking is increasingly a transnational crime involving illicit activities in two or more countries and often two or more global regions, Ashe told the senators. “Cooperation between nations is essential to combating this crime.”

As an element of this cooperation, USFWS provides practical support on conserving endangered species and their habitats to partner governments and nongovernmental organizations.

For instance, the service operates “the world’s first and only full-service wildlife forensics laboratory,” Ashe said, and USFWS “enforcement officers and forensic scientists have provided specialized training to wildlife enforcement counterparts in more than 65 different countries since 2000.”

Other USFWS activities include grants from the multinational species conservation funds, such as the Critically Endangered Animal Fund, which has helped snow leopards in Pakistan, and the Amphibians in Decline Fund, which has supported conservation of Lake Titicaca frogs in Peru.

These grants provide “critical conservation support across the globe for numerous endangered species” at “a pivotal moment in the conversation movement” when slaughter of wildlife and illegal trafficking of wildlife products are dramatically increasing, Ashe said.

USAID also is working with developed and developing nations to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.

“USAID supports activities that help shut down illicit markets” and has cooperated with authorities in China, Thailand and Vietnam to curtail sales of illegal products, Postel said.

In source countries like Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines, USAID partners with wildlife-focused ministries to develop national anti-poaching strategies, improve enforcement capacity, enhance information networks and reform outdated wildlife laws.

USAID’s efforts tend to focus on community-based conservation. Postel cited significant success in Namibia, where there are almost no recorded instances of poaching in conservancies, and in Nepal, where no tigers, elephants or rhinos were poached in 2013.

The agency is investing more than $20 million in fiscal year 2014 to fight poaching, increase community conservation and reduce consumer demand for trafficked products. And seeks to double that support in the next fiscal year.

The majority of funding will continue to be focused on Africa to address elephant and rhino poaching, but some also will be directed to Asia, where poaching and consumer demand for illegal wildlife products continue to rise.

Later in 2014, USAID plans to launch the Wildlife Trafficking Tech Challenge, a new program that will seek the creative, innovative science and technology solutions to wildlife crime.