2015 Annual Progress Assessment
2015 Annual Progress Assessment
U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking
The escalation of wildlife trafficking in recent years poses an urgent threat to conservation and global security. African elephant populations have declined by about 20 percent in the last decade to just over 400,000, and one out of every twenty wild rhinos was killed by a poacher in the last year alone. Well-armed traffickers exploit porous borders and weak institutions, eroding governance and undermining livelihoods. To tackle this problem, President Obama created the Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, bringing together 17 federal departments and agencies to create and implement a National Strategy to stop illegal activities that threaten the future survival of a multitude of species, including such iconic wildlife as elephants, rhinos, tigers, and sea turtles.
Despite these alarming trends, 2015 was a turning point in the fight against wildlife trafficking. In September, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade in ivory. When enacted, these steps will have a dramatic impact on two of the world’s largest wildlife markets and may lead other countries to halt their domestic commercial ivory markets. Here at home, President Obama announced wide-ranging restrictions on the domestic trade in African elephant ivory.
Events like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) crush of one ton of ivory in New York City reinforced the message that elephant tusks have no place in commerce. In China, USAID supported public service announcements aimed at reducing the demand for illegal wildlife reached 23 million Chinese people daily. Early results of these and many other international and domestic demand reduction efforts appear heartening: studies show that the price of ivory in China has fallen by almost half in the past two years and elephant poaching is decreasing in some key habitats.
President Obama’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and the Task Force’s Implementation Plan center on three objectives: strengthening enforcement, reducing demand, and expanding international cooperation. The Task Force agencies have realized substantial progress in all three areas, for example:
- Operation Crash, a rhino horn and ivory smuggling investigation led by USFWS and prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ), led to charges in U.S. courts against more than 30 individuals or businesses, 20 convictions to date, prison terms as long as 70 months, and forfeitures and restitutions as high as $4.5 million.
- U.S. agencies together trained more than 2,000 enforcement officials from rangers to judges, helping more than 40 countries better protect wildlife, from parrots to pangolins.
- The United States Embassy in Vietnam—in partnership with the governments of Vietnam and South Africa and with civil society— launched Operation Game Change, a campaign to reduce wildlife crime, especially purchases of rhino horn. Game Change reinforces a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program to reduce demand for wildlife and encourage law enforcement, contributing to a steady decline in wildlife crime since 2014.
- The collective efforts of Task Force members to raise international commitment to address this challenge helped lead to the first-ever United Nations General Assembly resolution on wildlife trafficking.
- USAID launched the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge to generate new science and technology solutions for: detecting transit routes, strengthening forensic evidence, reducing consumer demand, and tackling corruption along the supply chain. From more than 300 applications, representing 52 countries, 16 winners were announced on January 20, 2016.
The Task Force and its agencies are committed to maintaining this momentum and recognize that significant work remains.