By John L. Carwile
On December 20, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3 as World Wildlife Day, as an opportunity to celebrate all wildlife, both plants and animals, and to raise awareness of the benefit of ensuring their continued existence. The General Assembly said this reaffirms “the intrinsic value of wildlife and its various contributions, including its ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic contributions to sustainable development and human well-being.”
World Wildlife Day also acknowledges the security impacts of the global conservation crisis. Wildlife trafficking, one of the most lucrative types of transnational organized crime today with revenues up to $10 billion, threatens to undermine decades of conservation work by the international community. Wildlife trafficking not only decimates endangered species, it also threatens security, undermines rule of law, fuels corruption, hinders sustainable economic development, and contributes to the spread of disease.
On February 11, 2014, President Obama announced the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The Strategy strengthens U.S. leadership on countering the illegal trade in wildlife with three strategic priorities:• Strengthening domestic and global enforcement, including assessing related laws, regulations, and enforcement tools;• Reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife at home and abroad; and, • Building international cooperation and public-private partnerships to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.
The U.S. government plays a role in addressing wildlife trafficking, but it cannot solve this problem alone — this is a global problem that demands a global solution. Effectively combatting wildlife trafficking needs the combined efforts of all stakeholders, including foreign government partners, non-governmental organizations, private sector, and civil society.
Nepal has much to celebrate on World Wildlife Day, and the United States congratulates Nepal for its leadership role in wildlife trafficking and poaching. Nepal, which is home to unique and endangered species found in few other places on earth, has made remarkable progress in recent years and has been a leader in developing new scientific techniques for tracking and understanding wildlife. In tiger conservation, for example, under the USAID-funded Nepal Tiger Genome Project, the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal—a wholly Nepali-owned private entity—used an innovative genetic technology to build a comprehensive national DNA database of endangered Bengal tigers, helping protect them from poachers.
Nepal has also developed significant institutional reforms that strengthen coordination of wildlife crime law enforcement activities at all levels of government, including: the Wildlife Crime Control Coordination Committee and the National Tiger Conservation Committee at the Ministerial and Prime Minister levels, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau at the policy level, wildlife crime control units at district level, and community based anti-poaching units at the local level.
Nepal has also made great progress in reducing poaching. Although 120+ rhinos were poached between 2000 and 2006, since then the number has dropped dramatically. With no rhinos poached in 2011 — and only one poached in 2012 — Nepal is looking at celebrating 365 consecutive days of no-rhino poaching, a tribute to the outstanding coordination of different government entities, stakeholder non-governmental organizations, and local communities. Nepal’s tiger populations are also up: the 2009 census found about 120 tigers but just four years later the 2013 census showed a 60% increase with about 200 tigers. The United States is proud to be Nepal’s partner in reducing threats to biodiversity. An important component of that partnership is the USAID-funded $29.9 million, five-year Hariyo Ban project, which is designed to reduce threats, including the adverse impacts of climate change, to the country’s vast physical and biological diversity. This program is implemented by a consortium of leading conservation partners: World Wildlife Fund, CARE, the National Trust for Nature Conservation and the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal, in close collaboration with the Government of Nepal.
Enhanced anti-poaching and trafficking efforts have helped stabilize rhino and tiger populations in some areas of the region. A key to this effort has been the establishment of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network, or SAWEN, and the United States is proud to have supported that process. SAWEN should have an increasingly important role in protecting the region’s wildlife through the coordination of domestic and regional wildlife trafficking enforcement operations, anti-poaching training, and the development of trafficking policies.
As the hundreds of students, scientists and other experts who have traveled between our two countries to learn from each other about wildlife protection and biodiversity conservation can attest, working together we truly can make a difference to protect and preserve Nepal’s magnificent wildlife heritage.
Carwile is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. U.S. Embassy