By Andrew C. Revkin
The Obama administration, and the State Department in particular, face a long list of urgent issues, from Iran’s nuclear weapons program to trade disputes with China. That makes it hard to maintain a focus on the environment, whether the issue is new approaches to climate diplomacy or endangered species.
That’s why it was encouraging to see Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton take an hour today at State Department headquarters to stress the importance of stemming the booming illicit global trade in wildlife. She spoke to an audience of ambassadors, government officials, conservationists and scientists, noting that while much of the focus of late has been on Asian markets, the fast-growing middle class around the world – including in the United States – has created a huge market for a wide range of rare species and products derived from them. Shen announced several new initiatives, including having United States intelligence agencies to produce “an assessment of the impact of large-scale wildlife trafficking on our security interests.” (The Times has launched a series on the connection between African poaching and insurgent groups on that continent.)
National Geographic has posted a report on the event. During a panel discussion at the event, Cristián Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, summarized things this way: “We need to protect the source, break the chain and stop demand.”
Here’s are excerpts from a transcript of Clinton’s remarks:
" [O\ver the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more dangerous than ever before.
"As the middle class grows, which we all welcome and support, in many nations items like ivory or rhinoceros horn become symbols of wealth and social status. And so the demand for these goods rises. By some estimates, the black market in wildlife is rivaled in size only by trade in illegal arms and drugs. Today, ivory sells for nearly $1,000 per pound. Rhino horns are literally worth their weight in gold, $30,000 per pound.
"What’s more, we are increasingly seeing wildlife trafficking has serious implications for the security and prosperity of people around the world. Local populations that depend on wildlife, either for tourism or sustenance, are finding it harder and harder to maintain their livelihoods. Diseases are spreading to new corners of the globe through wildlife that is not properly inspected at border crossings. Park rangers are being killed. And we have good reason to believe that rebel militias are players in a worldwide ivory market worth millions and millions of dollars a year.
"So yes, I think many of us are here because protecting wildlife is a matter of protecting our planet’s natural beauty. We see it’s a stewardship responsibility for us and this generation and future generations to come. But it is also a national security issue, a public health issue, and an economic security issue that is critical to each and every country represented here." More....