The illegal trafficking of endangered wildlife has escalated to alarming levels. In 2015, poachers killed 1175 rhinos just in South Africa, compared to 13 in 2007. Annually, around 30,000 elephants were killed for their ivory tusks to make a profit.
As a result of poaching and trafficking, many iconic, endangered species are on the verge of extinction. But there is much more at stake here, said Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield. These crimes are not committed by small-time poachers, but by well-equipped, well-organized, global criminal networks, and they are aided by a web of corrupt and criminal facilitators.
“These are organized, efficient, often violent and well-funded networks. They are responsible for fueling not only the depletion of natural resources, but also undermining the rule of law, causing permanent harm to communities, local economies, and to the environment, fomenting instability, and providing a significant source of funds used by violent cartels, gangs, and even terrorists.”
In response to this escalation, in 2013 President Barack Obama established the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking in 2013, co-chaired by the Departments of State, Interior, and Justice, to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to stop illegal activities that threaten the future survival of many species of wildlife. This, and other efforts by the United States and its partners around the globe, have caused a turning point in the fight against wildlife trafficking.
For example, the State Department has partnered with the NGO African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to build regional law enforcement cooperation in Eastern Africa, develop a canine program in key ports in Africa, and elevate the issue of illegal online trade of wildlife, and implementation is underway.
Through this partnership with AWF on a canine detection program, two dogs at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) have been deployed for routine baggage checks. It is evident that passengers are aware of their presence and that in itself sends a very strong message to traffickers. Just in January 2016, there were four seizures made at JKIA.
“The entire world has a stake in protecting the world’s iconic animals,” said President Obama, “and the United State is strongly committed to meeting its obligation to help preserve the earth’s natural beauty for future generations.”