By Bryan Walsh
Anything that can be traded—legally or illegally—usually will be traded. That goes for the tusks, fins and other animals parts—and the endangered species that are attached to them. It hasn’t gotten the coverage that the issue deserves, but we’re currently in the middle of a poaching catastrophe. Roughly 30,000 African elephants were killed in 2012—more than three elephants an hour—the largest number in 20 years. South Africa is on pace to lose almost 1,000 rhinos this year—a world record, and a vast increase from the less than 20 rhinos a year that were poached on average between 2000 and 2008. The killing of species already under pressure by habitat loss and climate change is fueled chiefly by a vast increase in demand from the growing middle classes of Southeast and East Asia, where animals parts are used in traditional medicine and herbal drugs. Wildlife trafficking is now valued at between $7 billion and $10 billion a year, putting it in the top five illegal activities after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and weapons.
If Asia is the center of demand for poaching, Africa is the center of the supply. That’s why the White House used the last days of President Obama’s Africa trip to announce to launch a new wildlife trafficking initiative. With an executive order, Obama will convene a Cabinet-level task force composed of representatives from the State, Interior and Justice Departments that will create a national strategy to combat poaching around the world. The order will include a $10 million effort to train woefully underpaid police officers and park rangers in African countries like Tanzania, where Obama finished his trip on July 2. “The entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kiwete on July 1. Obama is right—and how the rest of the world, including Asia, responds to the poaching crisis will decide just how effective his executive order is.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week on Air Force One, Grant Harris, the senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Staff, laid out the reasoning behind Obama’s anti-poaching efforts: More....