DOI News

President Obama’s Leadership in Combating Wildlife Trafficking


David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior  

When I visited Tanzania in February on behalf of our Fish & Wildlife Service’s African wildlife program, I learned, first hand, how serious a crisis Tanzania and other key African nations face with the onslaught of organized wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking – which includes the illegal poaching, smuggling, and sale of protected species – has exploded in recent years. In central Africa, it is estimated that poachers have wiped out 140,000 of the region’s 150,000 elephants in the past decade. Over the same period, poaching of rhinoceroses in South Africa has jumped 30-fold. Just last year, some 300 elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon over the course of a few weeks. Some parks and preserves in central Africa – including the famous Salous Reserve in southern Tanzania – have been effectively emptied of their once massive elephant and rhinoceros populations. Fueled by the skyrocketing price of ivory on the black market, the wildlife trafficking crisis threatens to decimate a key piece of economies in Africa for which managed big-game hunting and ecotourism represent significant sources of income.

As wildlife trafficking has become more widespread, it has also become more dangerous, fueling international criminal syndicates, and undermining the stability of our allies. African nations have seen the professionalization of wildlife trafficking, with game wardens now regularly going toe-to-toe with gangs of poachers that more closely resemble militias than traditional small-scale operators. Poachers have begun using automatic weapons and combat equipment to conduct their attacks. Last year, five Cameroonian wildlife guards were killed in a single standoff with well-armed, well-equipped poachers. Tragically, similar incidents continue to occur.

This week, President Obama announced a new Administration effort to combat the rising tide of wildlife trafficking that is threatening the survival of elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, great apes, and other iconic animals in Africa and around the world.  

Shortly after landing in Tanzania, the President signed an Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking that establishes a cabinet-level Task Force led by the Attorney General and the Secretaries of State and the Interior which directs his Administration to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive program to work with African nations in combating wildlife poaching;
  • Prioritize the targeting and prosecution of international syndicates engaged in the illegal trafficking of wildlife and their parts around the globe for sale in consumer countries; and
  • Work with receiving countries to stop the transshipment and sale of ivory and other illegal wildlife parts.

The Executive Order also will establish a high-level Advisory Committee of outside experts to assist the Administration’s wildlife trafficking initiative.

The President also announced that the U.S. Department of State will provide an additional $10 million in training and technical assistance in Africa to combat wildlife trafficking, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will assign a wildlife trafficking specialist to the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam. This is in addition to the tens of millions of dollars provided annually by the U.S. government to combat wildlife trafficking, and steps by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will enhance protection for these animals under U.S. law.

This week's announcement by the President represents an aggressive, coordinated response to an issue that has serious implications for Africa’s economy, its security, and its natural and cultural heritage. The U.S. is ready to join with our partners in Africa and around the world to meet this challenge. As the President noted this week, “the entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”