By The Editors
The U.S. must do more to stop the poaching of elephants, rhinos and other imperiled species.
Every day the forest elephants convened at Dzanga Bai to drink the mineral-rich waters. Their gathering in this clearing—located in a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Central African Republic—was so reliable that researchers and tourists flocked there for guaranteed sightings of these elusive cousins of the larger savanna elephants. Then, on May 6, poachers from Sudan arrived. They gunned down at least 26 of the animals, hacked off their valuable tusks and left the bodies to rot.
Such events, often carried out by heavily armed militias equipped with helicopters and night-vision goggles, are becoming increasingly common across sub-Saharan Africa. Transnational criminal syndicates run these operations. Profits are high: a kilogram of elephant ivory can fetch $2,000 on the black market; the same amount of rhinoceros horn can command $65,000—more than cocaine or platinum. All told, illegal wildlife trafficking is an estimated $19-billion-a-year industry, which makes it the fourth most lucrative illicit activity in the world after the drug trade, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
That money is bankrolling extremists, terrorists and other criminal groups around the globe. The Somali militant Islamist group and al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab—which claimed responsibility for the September terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi—generates up to 40 percent of its funding from illegal ivory, according to a 2012 report from the Elephant Action League, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles. Other al Qaeda affiliates, as well as rebel groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, are also said to run on profits from illegal wildlife trafficking. As a result, elephant and rhino poaching has surged to record levels.
The U.S. is taking notice. In July it established a presidential task force on wildlife crime and pledged $10 million in training and technical assistance to combat poaching in Africa. Yet some U.S. policies continue to contribute to the trade. They must end.
The U.S. is the second-largest market for ivory, among other illegal wildlife products, thanks in part to legal loopholes that allow the trade of ivory depending on how old it is and what kind of elephant it comes from. Because it is practically impossible to distinguish old ivory from new and African ivory from Asian, however, criminals can exploit the legal market to launder illegal ivory. The U.S. should ban the trade of all ivory.
It should also stop issuing import permits for hunting trophies of imperiled species. More....