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Launching the Plan to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

As the next step in our ongoing work to address this global crisis, we are launching an Implementation Plan that provides details for how we are going to combat illicit wildlife trade in the coming years.

Wildlife trafficking is pushing some of the world’s most iconic species toward extinction while driving a lucrative criminal industry and funding armed groups that fuel instability in countries around the globe.

Today, as the next step in our ongoing work to address this global crisis, we are launching an Implementation Plan that provides details for how we are going to combat illicit wildlife trade in the coming years. The Plan lays out specific tasks and responsibilities, focusing on three priorities: strengthening enforcement; reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife; and building international partnerships and commitments.

The Implementation Plan is the latest step in years of leadership on this issue. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an event at the Department of State that brought together foreign ambassadors and leaders from international organizations, nongovernmental conservation organizations, and the private sector to promote conservation and strengthen the global commitment to combat the illegal trade of wildlife. In 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order that established an interagency wildlife task force and an advisory council of non-government experts and industry leaders. In 2014, we developed a comprehensive strategy for stopping this illicit trade — the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking — and made wildlife trafficking an important element of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that was hosted here in Washington.

Some nations have already joined our efforts and have increased their commitment to combat wildlife crime. For example, in February 2014, shortly after the release of the National Strategy, the Prime Minister of Vietnam directed all ministries and local authorities to prioritize wildlife trafficking, and Tanzania and the European Union began developing their own strategies for combating poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In May 2014, China announced $10 million in funding to support wildlife protection and conservation in Africa.

In addition to building international partnerships and commitments, we are increasing our investment in our own programs to combat wildlife trafficking. In the last year, the United States invested more than $60 million in international programs to address this issue, including the provision of technical assistance and capacity-building activities to strengthen law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and reduce demand for trafficked wildlife.

  • The State Department supported approximately 20 law enforcement investigative training sessions, benefiting nearly 30 countries through partners from INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
  • In December 2014, the U.S. Departments of State and Justice provided assistance to a UNODC-led workshop that resulted in the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Legal Task Force for Wildlife. This new task force will develop a legal handbook, toolkit, and training course for ASEAN government officials.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) supported a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) workshop hosted by the Government of Colombia in November 2014, where representatives from over 20 countries learned new techniques for monitoring and controlling the trade of protected shark species.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement led investigator training courses in Thailand; participants were trained in post seizure investigative techniques, including interviewing, surveillance, and evidence collection.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development provided equipment and software, along with training in procedures for more effective ranger-based monitoring, in several conservation areas in Central Africa in 2014. These efforts increased the number and effectiveness of patrols in critical elephant and ape habitats and led to an increase in the arrest and prosecution of poachers.

We are also leveraging the power of our trade agreements by pursuing groundbreaking, enforceable commitments to conserve wildlife and combat wildlife trafficking in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) with 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, representing major consumers, exporters and transit destinations for threatened and endangered wildlife.

These are only some examples of the progress we have already made, but we recognize that a crisis of this magnitude will require a sustained, long-term effort, and we are committed to building on this progress. By laying out a roadmap that establishes mechanisms for building partnerships and harnesses the resources of the United States government’s many departments and agencies, we are building a worldwide infrastructure that will help prevent wildlife crime and deter illicit traders in the years ahead.

Grant T. Harris is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.