Remarks at the Partnership Meeting on Wildlife Trafficking
Secretary of State
The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube
Congressman Moran, thank you for joining us today. I’d also like to welcome Deputy Administrator Steinberg from USAID, Naoko Ishii of the Global Environmental Facility. Thanks to Under Secretary Bob Hormats for his commitment to this issue, along with Under Secretary Maria Otero and Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine and Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, and many others here in the State Department, and particularly all of you from the conservation and wildlife community and the private sector who have been involved in this issue for many years and have done extraordinary work. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves with all of that positive effort that started 30, 40 years ago being affected by changes that we have to address at every level of the international community.
Now, some of you might be wondering why a Secretary of State is keynoting an event about wildlife trafficking and conservation, or why we are hosting this event at the State Department in the first place. Well, I think it’s because, as Bob Hormats has just pointed out, and as the public service announcements reinforce, over the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more dangerous than ever before.
As the middle class grows, which we all welcome and support, in many nations items like ivory or rhinoceros horn become symbols of wealth and social status. And so the demand for these goods rises. By some estimates, the black market in wildlife is rivaled in size only by trade in illegal arms and drugs. Today, ivory sells for nearly $1,000 per pound. Rhino horns are literally worth their weight in gold, $30,000 per pound.
What’s more, we are increasingly seeing wildlife trafficking has serious implications for the security and prosperity of people around the world. Local populations that depend on wildlife, either for tourism or sustenance, are finding it harder and harder to maintain their livelihoods. Diseases are spreading to new corners of the globe through wildlife that is not properly inspected at border crossings. Park rangers are being killed. And we have good reason to believe that rebel militias are players in a worldwide ivory market worth millions and millions of dollars a year.
So yes, I think many of us are here because protecting wildlife is a matter of protecting our planet’s natural beauty. We see it’s a stewardship responsibility for us and this generation and future generations to come. 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.
We all, unfortunately, contribute to the continued demand for illegal animal goods. Wildlife might be targeted and killed across Asia and Africa, but their furs, tusks, bones, and horns are sold all over the world. Smuggled goods from poached animals find their way to Europe, Australia, China, and the United States. I regret to say the United States is the second-largest destination market for illegally trafficked wildlife in the world. And that is something we are going to address.
Now, several conservation groups are here with us today, and we greatly appreciate their invaluable work. But the truth is they cannot solve this problem alone. None of us can. This is a global challenge that spans continents and crosses oceans, and we need to address it with partnerships that are as robust and far-reaching as the criminal networks we seek to dismantle.
Therefore, we need governments, civil society, businesses, scientists, and activists to come together to educate people about the harms of wildlife trafficking. We need law enforcement personnel to prevent poachers from preying on wildlife. We need trade experts to track the movement of goods and help enforce existing trade laws. We need finance experts to study and help undermine the black markets that deal in wildlife. And most importantly, perhaps, we need to reach individuals, to convince them to make the right choices about the goods they purchase.
Now, there’s no quick fix, but by working closely, internationally, with all of these partners, we can take important steps to protect wildlife in their environments and begin to dry up the demand for trafficked goods. So with these goals in mind, the State Department is pursuing a four-part strategy.
First, on the diplomatic front, we are working with leaders from around the world to develop a global consensus on wildlife protection. I spoke with President Putin, Ambassador, when we were together at the APEC summit in Vladivostok. He has been a staunch, vocal, public supporter of Russian wildlife. And I think it’s fair to say his personal efforts over the last years have made the lives of tigers in Russia much safer. There’s still poaching, but at least there is a commitment from the highest level of the Russian Government to protect the wildlife of Russia. In fact, when I was in Vladivostok, there were posters everywhere with tigers on the pictures on the lampposts and walls and everywhere we looked, reminding people that this was an important issue to Russia and the Russian Government. And I worked – I had the great privilege of working with President Putin and the other leaders there to make sure that the leaders’ statement that was issued included, for the first time ever, strong language on wildlife trafficking.
Now, Undersecretaries Bob Hormats and Maria Otero have met with African and Asian leaders to discuss the immediate actions needed to thwart poachers. Next week, President Obama and I will personally bring this message to our partners in ASEAN and the East Asia Summit when we meet in Phnom Penh.
We are also pressing forward with efforts to protect marine life. And last week, we joined forces with New Zealand to propose the world’s largest marine protected area, the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. And we hope to gain support from the international community as this important proposal moves forward.
We’re strengthening our ability to engage diplomatically on these and other scientific issues. Building scientific partnerships is an important tool in addressing such global challenges. That’s why I’m pleased to announce our three new science envoys, Dr. Bernard Amadei of the University of Colorado, the founder of Engineers Without Borders; Dr. Susan Hockfield, the former president and currently faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and renowned evolutionary biologist Dr. Barbara Schaal of Washington University in St. Louis. Are these three scientists with us today? Are they? Okay. But I think it’s working to create a scientific consensus and very preeminent scientists from across the world speaking out that is one of the important steps that we are urging partners to join with us in doing.
Secondly, we are reaching beyond governments to enlist the support of people. As part of this effort, Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine, our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, is spearheading a global outreach campaign which we will launch December 4th on Wildlife Conservation Day. Our embassies will use every tool at their disposal to raise awareness about this issue, from honoring local activists, to spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter. We want to make buying goods, products from trafficked wildlife, endangered species unacceptable, socially unacceptable. 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.
Third, we’re launching new initiatives to strengthen and expand enforcement areas. USAID has already provided more than $24 million over the past five years on a range of programs that combat wildlife crimes. Last year, they launched the ARREST program, which is establishing regional centers of expertise and expanding training programs for law enforcement. We really want to work with all of you, and we want both from countries that are victimized by trafficking to countries where consumers are the end-buyers of such products.
Finally, this is a global issue, and it calls, therefore, for a concerted global response. So I hope every government and organization here today will join the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking. That is the global partnership for sharing information on poachers and illicit traders. We’ll also be convening meetings with traditional stakeholders like NGOs and governments and with less traditional stakeholders like air and cruise line companies to discuss new potential partnerships.
Some of the most successful initiatives we’ve seen so far are the regional wildlife enforcement networks. These networks are critical to strengthening protection efforts and enhancing cooperation among key countries. To build on these efforts, today I’m calling for the creation of a global system of regional wildlife enforcement networks to take advantage of those networks that already are operating and the lessons we have learned from them. The sooner we get this off the ground, the better, and to that end, the State Department is pledging $100,000 to help get this new global system up and running.
I want to mention one last step we’re taking. Trafficking relies on porous borders, corrupt officials, and strong networks of organized crime, all of which undermine our mutual security. I’m asking the intelligence community to produce an assessment of the impact of large-scale wildlife trafficking on our security interests so we can fully understand what we’re up against. When I was in Africa last summer, I was quite alarmed by the level of anxiety I heard from leaders. 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. 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. Local communities are becoming terrified. Local leaders are telling their national leaders that they can lose control of large swaths of territory to these criminal gangs. Where criminal gangs can come and go at their total discretion, we know that begins to provide safe havens for other sorts of threats to people and governments.
So I think we have to look at this in a comprehensive, holistic way. And there’s something for everybody. If you love animals, if you want to see a more secure world, if you want our economy not to be corrupted globally by this kind of illicit behavior, there is so much we can do together. After all, the world’s wildlife, both on land and in our waters, is such a precious resource, but it is also a limited one. It cannot be manufactured. And once it’s gone, it cannot be replenished. And those who profit from it illegally are not just undermining our borders and our economies. They are truly stealing from the next generation. So we have to work together to stop them and ensure a sustainable future for our wildlife, the people who live with them, and the people who appreciate them everywhere.
So let me thank you all for being here. I really appreciate the turnout, and it means a great deal and the fact that so many ambassadors are here representing their countries – and I particularly want to thank our colleagues, the Ambassador of Kenya, the Ambassador from Indonesia, for taking a leading role in this effort. We want to hear your ideas. These are our ideas, but we really are soliciting your ideas – what works, what can we do better, how can we make a difference. Let’s put the poachers out of business and build a more secure and prosperous world for all of us, and particularly for children generations to come.
Thank you, all. (Applause.)
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