U.S. Plans to Target Illicit Wildlife Trade ; Effort Has Special Focus on Asia, with Larger Role for Intelligence Agencies

By Nixon, Ron | International New York Times, February 13, 2015 | Go to article overview

U.S. Plans to Target Illicit Wildlife Trade ; Effort Has Special Focus on Asia, with Larger Role for Intelligence Agencies


Nixon, Ron, International New York Times


The plan includes using intelligence agencies and pressuring Asian countries to stop the buying and selling of rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory.

Hoping to stem illegal wildlife trafficking, the Obama administration has introduced an aggressive plan for taking on traffickers that will include using American intelligence agencies to track and target those who benefit from the estimated $20- billion-a-year market.

The plan, which was outlined Wednesday by officials from the State Department, Justice Department and Interior Department, will also increase pressure on Asian countries to stop the buying and selling of illegal rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory and other items, which President Obama has called an "international crisis," and will try to reduce demand for those items worldwide.

"Right now, wildlife trafficking is a very profitable enterprise," said John C. Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Our goal is to take the profit out of this illegal trade with all the tools at our disposal."

But the planned actions, a result of a two-year administration review on how to limit wildlife trafficking, will be supported by only a modest increase in funding and staffing for the law enforcement arm of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency chiefly responsible for policing the wildlife trade.

Anti-trafficking experts praised the effort as an important step, even as they said the government faced a daunting task.

"It's fantastic that we are doing this, but given that there are still limited resources, the government needs to really focus its efforts and go after the criminal organizations behind the trade in the most critical areas both here and abroad," said Crawford Allan, a wildlife trafficking expert with Traffic, a program of the World Wildlife Fund. "They can't have a scattershot approach where they put a little money here and a little there."

The action comes as the United States has grown into the second- largest market for illegal wildlife products and a major conduit of the products to Asia, where rhino horns and ivory are believed to cure ailments like headaches and hangovers. Officials say that millions of pounds of illegal animal products, including bear and fish bladders, are sold every year to American and foreign customers. The trade has driven several animal species to near extinction while fueling the growth of international criminal gangs.

"The ongoing slaughter of rhinos and elephants in Africa is driven by rising consumer demand here, and United States citizens are intimately involved in illegal trade both here and abroad," said Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

As part of the administration's effort, the wildlife service is for the first time sending officers abroad to help combat trafficking originating in Africa, Asia and South America. One officer has been posted to Thailand, and three will be sent to Tanzania, Botswana and Peru later this year. In its most recent budget request, the administration asked for $75.4 million a year for the wildlife service's law enforcement division, $8 million more than the year before.

About $4 million of the funding would be used to support efforts to stop wildlife trafficking in African countries, and another $4 million to expand forensic labs and add special agents. …

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