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The $20 billion dollar per year illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts is second only to arms and drug smuggling in the amount of money it generates. However, the toll this lucrative business takes on our environment, the animals that live in it and even on public health is immeasurable.
The illegal poaching of wildlife is driving tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, exotic birds, and many other species, to the brink of extinction. Wildlife trafficking also contributes to the spread of virulent wildlife diseases, such as avian influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
The United States is working with other governments, organizations and people around the world to combat this dangerous threat. Over the past several years, the U.S. Department of State has contributed over $2 million to combat this illegal trade, funding activities such as enforcement and judicial training in Southeast Asia, species protection in Latin America, and enforcement workshops in South Asia.
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In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service donated $1.5 million this year toward preserving and protecting the wildlife habitats, including setting up patrols and monitoring for some of the most vulnerable and endangered species.
Like all trades, illegal wildlife trafficking is fueled primarily by demand. A worldwide market for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies, traditional medicines, and more, drives the poaching of wildlife.
The U.S. Department of State is reaching out to educate buyers and lessen the demand for illegal wildlife and wildlife parts. In a partnership with WildAid, the State Department has produced, and is distributing internationally, a public service announcement in which world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall calls for an end to the purchase of trafficked wildlife goods:
"If someone tells you that it’s fine to kill sharks; there are plenty in the ocean – don’t buy it. And if they say there are enough chimpanzees and tigers in the forest; so don’t worry about their slaughter – definitely don’t buy it. Our endangered animals are being wiped off the earth by illegal wildlife trade, and it’s up to us to stop it. Never buy illegal wildlife products and we can save our endangered animals. When the buying stops the killing can, too."
Movie actor Harrison Ford has also joined the fight against trafficking, and produced a public service announcement of his own.
The United States government and its international partners in the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking are committed to stopping illegal wildlife trafficking through education, habitat protection and political solutions.