Obama Combats Wildlife Trafficking
President Obama launched an initiative in Tanzania on Monday aimed at combating illegal wildlife trafficking and curbing widespread poaching of rhinos and elephants in Africa.
Using his executive authority, Obama established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking composed of the State, Interior and Justice departments to devise a national strategy over the next six months. He also created an independent, eight-member advisory panel that will offer recommendations to the task force.
In addition, the State Department will provide $10 million in training and technical assistance to combat poaching in Africa. Three million dollars will go to South Africa, $3 million to Kenya and $4 million elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The president’s announcement puts wildlife trade on the map and raises its profile beyond a niche issue to one of global importance,” said Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund in the United States. “These are global crime syndicates that are robbing the wealth of Africa and it is fueling the trade of other things, such as drugs and arms. And eventually it will drive these species extinct.”
The hunting of elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species in developing nations for sale to wealthier countries is valued at $7 billion to $10 billion per year, placing it among drugs and human trafficking as one of the world’s top illegal markets.
The demand for animal parts, driven largely by Asia, has had a devastating effect on African wildlife. About 30,000 elephants were killed illegally in 2012 — the largest number in 20 years. South Africa has lost almost 450 rhinos so far in 2013, which could make this year a record for that animal.
Grant Harris, the senior director for Africa for the National Security Council, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Tanzania that the president will assign a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official to that country to help tackle poaching.
With a black-market price of $30,000 a pound, Harris said, rhinoceros horns are “literally worth greater than their weight in gold.” Ivory from elephant tusks is selling for $1,000 a pound.
On Monday, South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism announced that the government has expanded efforts to protect its remaining elephants by fitting animals with collars for remote tracking. The action aims to preserve an elephant population decimated by years of civil war and ivory poaching.
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