Animal trafficking—a $10 billion annual trade—has received elevated attention in recent years, as a spate of poaching has been unleashed on rhinoceroses and elephants. Rhino horn, which costs more per gram than gold and cocaine, is believed in parts of Asia to cure an assortment of ailments. And elephant tusks, which sell for $1,000 a pound, are used for making trinkets and filigreed ornaments.
The United States is stepping up its efforts to help combat the devastating trade, which is driving down populations of already threatened species sharply. President Obama unveiled an initiative to tackle the lucrative illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts last week, during his African trip that culminated in Tanzania.
“Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife, so today I issued a new executive order to better organize U.S. government efforts in this fight so that we can cooperate further with the Tanzanian government and others,” Obama said in a speech. “The entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”
The order establishes a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking that will be responsible for drawing up a strategy to combat poaching in targeted African countries.
In addition to the task force, Obama has dedicated $10 million to directly fund technical assistance and training for rangers and others fighting the battle against poaching on the ground, the Washington Post explains. Of those funds, $6 million will be split between South Africa and Kenya, and the remaining $4 million spread across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, E&E News reports.
The trade in wildlife extends beyond animal parts too, to the transport of live, wild animals sold as pets. Globally, birds bear a large brunt on account of their bright feathers and ‘entertaining’ songs, an article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology points out. Reptiles, mammals, and plants are also in high demand.
Despite the global nature of this threat, for now, Obama’s support is leveled at African nations because the poaching crisis there is seen to be out of control. Hunting elephants has become a large-scale, militarized affair in some parts of the continent like the Central African Republic, as corrupt political forces take advantage of the incredibly lucrative trade.
And in 2012 alone, more than 600 African rhino were poached for their horns. Conservationists, increasingly desperate to thwart poachers’ efforts, are turning to methods like poisoning rhino horn. They’ve also recently started carbon dating ivory items to pinpoint illegal sources (ivory traded after the 1989 ban). The approach is helping authorities to focus their tracking resources most efficiently.
“In the last few years, wildlife trafficking has really exploded in terms of scale and also in terms of the types of poachers and organized crime networks that are involved in this activity,” said Grant Harris, senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Staff, in a government press release.
Conservationists have lauded Obama’s move, with some pointing out that while $10 million might not sound like a lot, it could make a difference.
“In combating wildlife crime…you can talk about investments in the millions and tens of millions (of dollars) and you can achieve a lot,” said John Scanlon, the secretary-general for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to Reuters. “It’s not like if you’re talking about combating climate change, where you’re talking about multiple billions.”
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