Last weekend, the Kenyan government set fire to more than 100 tons of ivory and rhinoceros horn — a stockpile seven times larger than any destroyed globally thus far. The event dramatically underscored the existential threat wildlife trafficking presents to many of our most treasured species. Over a recent three-year period, approximately one fifth of the entire African elephant population — 100,000 elephants — were killed for their ivory. That equates to one elephant killed every 15 minutes. Rhinoceros populations in South Africa are also being killed at a rate of more than three a day. Since 2008, one-fifth of the remaining African rhinoceroses — nearly 6,000 — have been poached.
The United States — as one of the largest consumer market in the world—drives demand for products around the globe, and represents a significant market for illegal wildlife products — jewelry, clothing, medicine, carvings, souvenirs and food. This demand supports a trade that threatens to decimate wildlife populations around the world, from iconic species to little-known animals that are critical to ecosystems and livelihoods.
Wildlife trafficking is also a threat to security globally. The illegal trade in wildlife products is a highly lucrative form of transnational organized crime, with annual revenues in the billions of dollars per year. This illegal trade has devastating impacts: it threatens national and international security, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption, hinders economic development (particularly at the level of local communities) pushes species to the brink of extinction, and contributes to the spread of disease.
There’s no doubt that wildlife trafficking is a global problem, with implications that extend far beyond the populations of animals killed for their hair, hides, teeth, and horns. If we’re going to be successful in stemming this epidemic, the United States must play a leading role in eliminating our own demand for illegal products.
We need nothing less than a consumer revolution so the U.S. can stop demand for these products in its tracks. By ending the market for goods made of elephant ivory, rhino horn, and other trafficked rare animals, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren can see these iconic species thrive in their natural habitats.
This means getting all Americans — from businesses, to policymakers, to consumers — to dig in and take a stand. That’s why the U.S. government is enlisting forward-thinking companies to step up and help find solutions to end the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife products.
To start, President Obama established a task force to develop and implement a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking that seeks to reduce the supply, interrupt the transport, and eliminate the demand for illegal products. Federal agencies, including the Interior Department, have partnered with African and Asian nations to help reduce demand and band together in this fight.
Tiffany & Co. was an early partner for the administration in this effort. We have long recognized the trafficking problem and eliminated ivory products from our caselines years ago. This was both the right thing to do and good for our bottom line. That’s why last year we joined the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance — a unique coalition led by former Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes that brings together leading companies and non-profit organizations to work alongside the government to end wildlife trafficking in the United States.
Tiffany & Co. has also set an example for the rest of the jewelry industry, leading other major U.S. companies — including Signet, Ben Bridge, Richline, and Rio Grande — to join the Alliance. So have representatives from the travel and tourism, technology, and fashion sectors, like Carnival Corporation, Google, Etsy, Ebay, and Ralph Lauren. Each company has pledged to remove trafficked products from their supply chain, promote best practices within their sector, and empower their consumers to do their part to end wildlife trafficking for good.
But that’s not enough. The problem is too large for one company, one government or one country to take on alone. We encourage more U.S. and international corporations to follow these examples and show leadership in raising awareness and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products.
Responsibly sourcing products and educating the public are important steps that businesses can take to gain an edge while reducing demand for wildlife products. Consumers who understand the impact of their purchases on threatened and endangered wildlife are far more likely to change their behavior and influence others.
For consumer businesses, reputation is everything. These corporations are putting their names on the line and standing up for what is important, what is competitive, and what is right. By taking a hard stance against wildlife trafficking, corporations are doing their part to protect and preserve this earth’s rich wildlife heritage for future generations. Together, we can focus the United States’ powerful consumer market into a force for good.