U.S. Government Unveils a New National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

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Today the U.S. government unveiled a new national strategy for combating the global illegal wildlife trade. In response, the African Wildlife Foundation released the following statement from its CEO, Dr. Patrick Bergin. Bergin is part of the eight-member Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, which provided suggestions for the development of the strategy and which will be offering further input on its implementation.

The U.S. government’s new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking is commendable for its “whole government” approach to combating the illegal wildlife trade. As revealed by the national strategy, all branches of government must be engaged in this fight, and all available levers and tools must be applied in order to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately destroy the criminal and hugely destructive illegal trade in wildlife products. The United States is addressing its own shortcomings with regard to regulation of wildlife trade and punitive legislation around wildlife crime, and, in so doing, helping to eliminate itself as a source, transit, and destination country for illegal wildlife products. In particular, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) commends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Departments of State and Justice, for proposing a ban on the commercial trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Like the U.S. government’s approach, the African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF’s) strategy for combating the illegal wildlife trade is holistic in nature. The threats posed by the illegal wildlife trade, as with many conservation challenges, are complex, nuanced, and diverse. Hence, our experience has taught us that we cannot afford to be incremental or piecemeal in our approach. AWF supports the U.S. government’s commitment to prioritize wildlife trafficking across all enforcement agencies and enhance interagency coordination, as well as its decision to use all tools at its disposal to target and seize the financial assets of wildlife trafficking networks. We stand ready to work with the U.S. government—and the other governments represented at the wildlife trafficking summit in London this week—in the fight to combat the multi-billion dollar, criminal wildlife trade.

As one of the world’s largest markets for illegal wildlife products, what the United States does within its borders and abroad matters. Not only does the United States have an opportunity to set an example—in passing stricter regulations, in interagency cooperation, in punitive legislation, in enhancing law enforcement, and using diplomacy and global partnerships to affect change—but as a nation with considerable resources and expertise, it has a responsibility to lend its support and experience to those countries on the frontlines of this war. These nations should not have to bear this burden alone—and with the recommendations within the national strategy, the United States is very clearly communicating to them that they will not have to.