By Juliet Eilperin
President Obama will launch a new initiative in Tanzania on Monday aimed at combating illegal wildlife trafficking, according to White House officials.
Using his executive authority, Obama will convene a Cabinet-level task force composed of the State, Interior and Justice departments that will be charged with devising a national strategy to curb the illegal trade of wildlife across the globe. The initiative also will include $10 million specifically earmarked for addressing poaching in Africa, particularly of rhinos and elephants.
Grant Harris, the senior director for Africa for the National Security Council, told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama also will announce that he will detail a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official to Tanzania to help them tackle the issue.
This illicit activity—in which elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species are hunted in developing nations and sold to consumers in wealthier countries– has reached unprecedented heights in recent years. It is now valued at between $7 billion to $10 billion a year, placing it among the world’s top five illegal activities after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and arms.
The demand for animal parts, driven largely by Asia, has had a devastating effect on Africa’s wildlife. Roughly 30,000 African elephants were killed illegally in 2012, the largest number in 20 years. And this year alone South Africa has lost almost 450 rhinos, which could make 2013 a record for poaching of the imperiled species.
Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of conservation strategy and science for the World Wildlife Fund in the United States, said the move was significant because it brings “high-level attention to this serious crime issue” in an unprecedented way. More....