Voices for the Wild: The Power To End Wildlife Trafficking Through Creative Policy and Impactful Narrative

Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment 
World Wildlife Day Event, Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
March 2, 2016

As prepared

Introduction/New Partnerships

Good afternoon. I am thrilled so many of you are able to be here today. This is a group that cares deeply about conserving wildlife. Having you here underscores how this issue can inspire people, who often have very different backgrounds, to take concerted action. This is an exciting gathering and we want to share that excitement around the world! Throughout today’s program, I encourage you to use the event hashtag, #WildlifeSpotlight, in your social media postings.

The challenges wildlife faces are familiar to each of you. Global ecosystems are under unprecedented pressure and the situation surrounding the survival of many species is dire. Which means the stakes surrounding conservation have never been higher.

The challenges are undeniably daunting. But, on the eve of the day we take a step back to appreciate the world’s iconic animals – I’d like to focus on areas where we are making progress.

We’re seeing a surge in global momentum around wildlife conservation. Governments, the private sector, NGOs and people from myriad fields are working together in unprecedented ways.

This spirit of partnership has driven much of President Obama’s approach to conservation issues. The U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking was a historic initiative begun with an Executive Order by President Obama in 2013.

Since that time, we have been working hard on concrete steps to implement the strategy. Over the past year, our efforts have paid off in ways that seemed improbable just a few years ago.

In September, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping each committed to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, and to take timely and significant steps to halt the domestic commercial trade in ivory.

Hong Kong also recently announced it is considering moving towards banning its domestic ivory trade.

When combined with ongoing demand-reduction efforts and economic trends, these steps are making palpable waves.

Over the past 18 months, the price for ivory in China has been cut in half. And there has been a significant drop in demand in China’s legal ivory market.

The commitments by the U.S. and China don’t on their own deflate the market for elephant ivory. But China and the United States are the world’s two largest markets for wildlife products. And these commitments send a strong message about the priority we place on conserving wildlife.

Just as wildlife doesn’t adhere to national borders, our efforts to save them have likewise taken on transnational dimensions.

Our international cooperation is a focus of the first progress assessment on the U.S. National Strategy, that we will release formally tomorrow.

The assessment lays out the progress we’ve made strengthening enforcement, reducing demand, and expanding our international cooperation to reduce wildlife trafficking.

Our efforts fund training for thousands of enforcement personnel, from game reserves and national parks in Africa to customs officials in East Asia, to prosecutors in Latin America.

These international partnerships are necessary to the conservation effort. National policies are a vital part of the equation. But on their own, they’re insufficient to address the problem.

The crux of the dilemma is changing people’s behavior. It’s about stopping the demand and convincing people about the value of conserving wildlife.


This is where the efforts of so many of you come in. Through reporting, photojournalism, documentaries, filmmaking, art, and other mediums you are engaging and educating people about the beauty, wonder, and value of wildlife.

Your work makes the wildlife we are seeking to conserve tangible to audiences across the globe. Your work exposes the threat of wildlife trafficking.

Which is why the stories you tell are so important.

Your words and images give the world’s wildlife a voice.

You tell their stories in a way that that creates empathy among your audiences. You engage people; you help them to understand, and inspire them to take action.

And that skill and that work holds tremendous value.

But, as you know, the enormity of this challenge requires a holistic approach.

Just as no one person can tackle this problem, no storyteller and no policymaker can hope to single-handedly rein in traffickers or drive conservation efforts. It requires many different actors working together.

Work of International Organizations and USG

Fortunately, the international community has begun to up its game with respect to conservation efforts.

Over the past year, we saw the global organizations take some important steps:

  • The United Nations General Assembly passed its first resolution specifically focused on wildlife trafficking last July. In September, it adopted new global Sustainable Development Goals that called on UN member states to take urgent action to end wildlife trafficking.
  • Regional organizations from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the G-7 all agreed to take action to fight wildlife trafficking.

American embassies around the world are also taking steps to raise awareness about the threat of wildlife trafficking and what people can do to combat it.

In Vietnam, our embassy hosted a film and concert festival called Wildfest that attracted approximately 2,500 people. Through creative public outreach, the embassy is trying to reduce pangolin and rhino horn consumption.

Here in Washington, we recognize the importance of showing rather than just telling to catalyze public action.

Later this evening, we will have a first-of-its-kind special projection on the façade of the State Department in partnership with the Film “Racing Extinction,” Vulcan Productions and Discovery Communications.

The State Department is also launching an exciting new partnership with the Jackson Hole Film Festival to screen films related to wildlife at our embassies around the world. Assistant Secretary Ryan will discuss this program in more detail.

We’re also pleased to announce that we’ll be working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to sponsor a “Zoohackathon.”

The idea is simple: bright coding minds will spend the weekend of World Orangutan Day– August 19th – at local zoos.

There, they’ll consider problems submitted by our partner NGOs and field-professionals and develop apps and programs to address these challenges. Winners will be announced at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September.

The Zoohackathon will build upon our successful Fishhackathons, which have promoted new technological solutions for combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.


In closing, let me say I know the problems facing wildlife are daunting. I know the solutions are challenging. Let me assure you that we will not give up, and we will not let up. And I urge you to do the same.

All of us know the devastating impact trafficking can have, if left unchecked. Traffickers rob the world of its natural resources. They deplete populations of some of the most remarkable wildlife on earth for the money tusks, horns, or other body parts fetch on the black market.

It’s our responsibility to change how this story ends.

We face an uphill battle. And I’m glad to count so many of you as allies.

Thank you very much.