March 3, 2017

Stopping Wildlife Trafficking in its Tracks

By Megan Guilfoyle

$10 billion—that’s the estimated amount of money terrorist organizations profit from illegal wildlife trade every year. It may come as a surprise, but illegal wildlife trading on the black market is a major source of revenue for terrorist and rebel networks around the world.

Animals like elephants, rhinos, tigers, turtles, and pangolins are being poached at alarming rates and sold to buyers as high-end novelty items, medicine, and pets. According to Conservation International, every 15 minutes an elephant is killed—averaging 100 elephants a day — with ivory sold for around $600 a pound on the black market.

Wildlife trafficking not only breeds instability and crime, it can lead to job insecurity and is harmful for animal populations and ecosystems within the local communities where animals are illegally hunted.

“It’s a mistake to think about wildlife trafficking as just a conservation challenge when it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that fuels well-organized criminal networks,” said Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Thankfully, the United States has become a global leader in the fight against wildlife trafficking and trading. Through bipartisan legislation like the recently passed END Wildlife Trafficking Act and American-supported public-private partnerships, we are making progress to protect and conserve these exploited animals.

Here are the stories of three animal conservation champions who work alongside the U.S. government in the fight against wildlife trafficking, poaching and the illegal animal trade.

VULCAN

In the first-ever pan-African survey, Vulcan Inc.—a private company that uses data and research to help combat some of the world’s toughest issues—set out to provide accurate and timely reporting on the current state of savanna elephant populations throughout Africa. In the final report of the Great Elephant Census project, Vulcan found an overall 30% decline in African savanna elephants in 15 out of the 18 countries surveyed. The vital information gathered in these surveys— with support from USAID and the World Conservation Society— will be used to help improve conservation efforts for elephants all over Africa and will help us fight poaching more effectively for years to come.

The Nature Conservancy

In north-central Kenya lies the Sera Community Rhino Sanctuary, the first community-owned and operated black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Jointly supported by USAID and The Nature Conservancy, the sanctuary serves as a safe haven for this endangered species. The East African black rhino population dropped by 98% between 1960 and 1995, mainly due to poaching and hunting. Within Kenya however, conservation efforts have led to an increase in population sizes—from only 381 rhinos reported in 1987 to current estimates of about 640 rhinos. And last year, the Sera Rhino Sanctuary celebrated the birth of a black rhino calf—the first to be born on community land in northern Kenya in the last 25 years. With a population of 11 healthy rhinos, the sanctuary is growing its numbers and is helping to rebuild Kenya’s black rhino population in a safe environment sheltered from poachers.

World Wildlife Fund

After animals have been captured or killed for illegal trading purposes, they generally travel long distances to reach a final point-of-sale. The Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership works to reduce the exploitation of the international transportation sector as a method for moving trafficked animals to the marketplace. The World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. State Department, U.S. Homeland Security, and USAID are collaborating with other partner organizations, government agencies, transportation companies, conservation organizations, and law enforcement to create a unified front in cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking in the transportation industry. In September of 2016, the ROUTES Partnership organized a training with 176 airline and airport personnel at two major airports in Vietnam and South Africa, to educate them on the methods of wildlife smugglers and how to work with local law enforcement to report cases of wildlife trafficking.

In honor of World Wildlife Day, we thank the many NGOs, businesses, and government agencies working to create a better, safer world for us all—one elephant, rhino, tiger, turtle, and pangolin at a time.

Photo Source: Flickr / CC