The CIA Will Investigate Wildlife Trafficking

Elephants are often attacked for their tusks, which can bring in $1,000 per pound. (Photo by Philip Milne/CC BY-NC-ND)


In a meeting on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the State Department is getting serious about fighting the illegal wildlife trade, which has become increasingly enmeshed with organized crime and rogue military groups. She announced that she was asking the Central Intelligence Agency to investigate the effects of the illegal wildlife trade on U.S. security interests.

“I think many of us are here because protecting wildlife is a matter of protecting our planet’s natural beauty,” Clinton told the audience of conservationists and foreign ambassadors. “But it is also a national security issue, a public health issue, and an economic security issue that is critical to each and every country represented here.”

In Garamba National Park in the Congo, the Ugandan military appears to be gunning down elephants for their tusks from state-owned helicopters, the New York Times reported in September. The Congolese military and South Sudan’s army have also been implicated in poaching. Militant groups such as the Shabab, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and Darfur’s Al Qaeda-linked janjaweed appear to be getting in on the action, using illegal wildlife products to fund their other activities and killing park rangers in the process.

Clinton said that she was acting in the face of rising organized criminal activity. Almost 39 tons of ivory were seized worldwide in 2011. At least 458 endangered rhinoceroses have been killed in South Africa this year alone.

“It is one thing to be worried about the traditional poachers who come in and kill and take a few animals, a few tusks, a few horns, or other animal parts,” Clinton said. “It’s something else when you’ve got helicopters, night vision goggles, automatic weapons, which pose a threat to human life as well as wildlife.”

Clinton also announced renewed diplomatic negotiation with foreign countries to work together to crack down on eco-criminals, and a State Department campaign encouraging people worldwide to condemn the wildlife trade and to avoid buying poached goods.

Wildlife traffickers target not only large endangered mammals like rhinoceroses, elephants. Reptiles and birds get caught up in the exotic pet trade, including endangered parrots.

Clinton pointed out that the United States is the second largest market for illegally trafficked wildlife. (China is the largest.) This past July, two Midtown Manhattan jewelers pled guilty to selling $2 million worth of ivory.

“We want friends to tell friends they don’t want friends who ingest, display, or otherwise use products that come from endangered species anywhere in the world,” Clinton said.

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