Wildlife Trafficking

 Fish and Wildlife Service

The Fight against Wildlife trafficking

On February 11, 2015, the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking issued the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking that President Obama released on February 11, 2014. The Task Force, which is led by the Departments of State, Justice, and the Interior, and includes 14 additional federal departments and agencies, was established by Executive Order No. 13648 (July 1, 2013) and charged with developing a government-wide strategy for fighting poaching and other wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking has become an international crisis that threatens security, hinders sustainable economic development, and undermines the rule of law. The illicit trade in wildlife is decimating many species worldwide and threatens iconic species such as rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers with extinction.

The Implementation Plan builds upon the National Strategy’s roadmap and is a robust, focused reaffirmation of our Nation’s commitment to work in partnership with governments, local communities, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to stem the pernicious illegal trade in wildlife. The agencies on the Task Force have been working to implement the National Strategy since its inception, and the Implementation Plan lays out next steps toward each of the National Strategy’s three key objectives – strengthening domestic and global enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife, and expanding international cooperation. For each objective, the Implementation Plan identifies specific measures, the lead and participating agencies for these activities, and how progress will be measured.

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), together with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, is responsible for prosecuting international wildlife trafficking crimes, primarily under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act, as well as crimes related to wildlife trafficking, such as smuggling, money laundering, and criminal conspiracy. Working with the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other agencies, ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices indicted, prosecuted, and secured convictions during 2014 in numerous cases of trafficking in internationally-protected species, such as ivory, rhinoceros horn, narwhal tusk, shark fins, turtles and reptiles. Federal prosecutors also pursued charges in 2014 against traffickers whose crimes threaten domestically-protected wildlife, such as mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes and paddlefish eggs.

One large-scale, multi-agency criminal enforcement initiative is “Operation Crash,” which targets traffickers in rhinoceros horn, including those who smuggle raw or uncarved rhinoceros horns from the United States to China as well as those who traffic in Asian art and antiques (including fake antiques) made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Thus far, there have been 26 arrests and 18 convictions from Operation Crash. Defendants in these cases have been sentenced to significant terms of imprisonment and the forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash, gold bars, rhino horn, and luxury vehicles and jewelry.

The Department also works in the international sphere by assisting and working with enforcement partners in other countries that are working to stop the illegal trade in protected wildlife. In 2014, the Department of Justice continued its efforts to train our foreign counterparts on the legal, investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial aspects of enforcing wildlife laws. Such training develops more effective partners for us to work with in combating transnational environmental crimes. ENRD participated extensively in training and conducted workshops through the various Wildlife Enforcement Networks, including networks in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Africa. Additional capacity building and training for judges on wildlife trafficking was conducted in Panama, Honduras and Singapore. The Department of Justice, along with other federal agencies, also hosted wildlife officials from 14 African nations under the International Visitor Leadership Program in May 2014. Finally, the Department of Justice has continued to work with regulatory and enforcement personnel from numerous other countries including the European Union, Australia, Peru, Brazil, Honduras and China on issues related to combatting illegal timber trafficking which destroys protected wildlife habitat.

Updated May 6, 2015

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