President Obama made a surprise announcement that will help stop the rampant poaching of elephants and rhinos that is decimating their populations in Africa.
“Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife,” Obama said during his visit to Tanzania in July. “Today I issued a new Executive Order to better organize US government efforts in this fight so that we can cooperate with the Tanzanian government and others. This includes additional millions of dollars to help countries across the region build their capacity to meet this challenge.”
His Executive Order includes:
- $10 million across various US agencies to improve protection for threatened wildlife populations in key African countries;
- A presidential task force on wildlife trafficking to develop a national strategy within six months to fight wildlife crime, led by the Secretaries of State and Treasury and the US attorney general;
- A review of the US federal government’s transnational organized crime strategy to consider adding wildlife trafficking to the list of crimes it covers, elevating it to the same level as arms, drug and human trafficking.
Elephant poaching is at the highest levels since 1989, when ivory trade was made illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Last week, officials in Kenya seized 775 pieces of elephant ivory weighing more than 1.1 tons in the port city of Mombasa, destined for Malaysia from Uganda. The Kenya Wildlife Service says poachers killed 137 elephants and 24 rhinos so far this year, the highest number in a single year.
In Africa, a heart-breaking 20,000 elephants have been killed over the past year (and the past several years) and 668 rhinos, precipitous increases from just a few years ago. Entire herds of elephants have been massacred at once, including mothers and children.
If this isn’t stopped, African rhinos and elephants could be extinct during our lifetime.
The World Wildlife Fund and other nonprofits are now using drones to deter and find poachers before they kill animals.
As well as protecting endangered species, the White House plan is intended to help stabilize parts of Africa plagued by insurgent groups.
Paramilitary groups like the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army and al Shabaab, which is allied with al Qaeda, have been using wildlife poaching to fund their activities, Kent Butts told Reuters, who until May served as director of the national security issues group at the US Army War College.
Rhinoceros horns sell for about $30,000 a pound – making it more valuable than gold – and ivory from elephant tusks sells for $1,000 a pound – the illegal trade in animal parts is up to $7 billion to $10 billion a year.
“Shabaab’s recent merger with al Qaeda makes the link between wildlife poaching and extremist ideology and terrorism more clear," David Hayes, deputy secretary at the US Interior Department, told Reuters. "The fact that both those groups have clearly been implicated in illegal poaching make it difficult to say this isn’t a meaningful national security issue."