By Bryan Walsh
The press was mostly interested in her position on Syria, but Hillary Clinton had something to say about poaching too. Why the White House is taking on the wildlife trade.
If the crowd for the White House Forum to Counter Wildlife Trafficking was a little bit more crowded than you might expect at an event about, well, wildlife trafficking, blame Hillary Clinton. Or better yet, blame Syria—the former Secretary of State had long been scheduled to speak at the wildlife event, but she also decided to take the opportunity the Syria crisis. (For the record, she said the world would have to deal with the use of chemical weapons as “swiftly and comprehensively as possible.”) I’m guessing most of the press were a lot more interested in that—and on the possibility of a 2016 run—than on Clinton’s thoughts about elephant poaching.
And that’s too bad. While Syria is clearly foremost on people’s minds at the White House—Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes might have set a landspeed record for opening remarks while introducing the forum—wildlife trafficking is a serious threat to global biodiversity, and one that is getting worse by the day. Trafficking in species like elephants and rhinos has doubled since 2007, and the illegal trade is now the fourth-largest international crime. The number of elephants in killed in Kenya has risen eight-fold since 2007, and the number of rhinos slaughtered in South Africa has increased fifty-fold over the same time period. The global demand for wildlife parts has increased so much that white rhinos horns can be worth as much as two times their weight in gold—that’s well over $2,000 an ounce—and the entire trade could be worth $10 billion a year. “Wildlife trafficking has serious implications for the security and prosperity of people around the world,” Clinton said in her speech. Stopping the metastasizing wildlife trade matters for animals—rare species like the Bengal tiger and the northern white rhino could be hunted to extinction—and it matters for people too.
This White House has already put additional effort into fighting wildlife trafficking. Back in July, during his visit to Africa, President Obama signed an executive order that established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, as well as an advisory council on the issue. The Department of State will provide an additional $10 million in regional and bilateral training and technical assistance to African nations to combat wildlife trafficking, with Kenya and South Africa—two wildlife-rich nations that are at the center of the trade—getting the bulk of the funding. At the forum, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would destroy the roughly six tons of confiscated ivory in its possession, to signal that the trade in the substance is unacceptable and to encourage other countries to destroy their stockpiles. More....