WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell named the members of a new federal council on wildlife trafficking during a Forum to Counter Wildlife Trafficking held at the White House today. The panel will advise the Secretary and members of the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, a federal interagency group, on ways to improve coordination and implementation of domestic and international efforts to fight wildlife trafficking and poaching.
Jewell also announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to crush and destroy approximately six tons of elephant ivory seized by its special agents and wildlife inspectors for violations of U.S. wildlife laws. The ivory “crush” is part of a series of upcoming coordinated actions that will spotlight the rising tide of poaching and trafficking that is threatening wild populations of elephants, rhinoceros and other iconic species – and strengthen global efforts to crack down on these criminal activities.
“Rising demand for ivory is fueling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” Jewell said. “We will continue to work aggressively with the Departments of Justice and State, as well as with international law enforcement agencies, to disrupt and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory, and we encourage other nations to join us in that effort.”
The Service plans to destroy the confiscated ivory, which is being held in secure storage at the agency's National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver, Colorado, on October 8, 2013. The material will include raw and carved whole tusks, smaller carvings, and other elephant ivory items abandoned or forfeited to the Service as a result of its criminal investigations in the United States and overseas, as well as its anti-smuggling efforts at the nation's ports of entry over the past 25 years.
The agency is also reviewing its existing regulations and policies and will propose several changes in the coming weeks designed to close loopholes that currently make it easier for criminals to smuggle ivory and other wildlife products in violation of U.S. and international law.
In addition, the Service is stepping up efforts to train game officers, customs officials and police across Africa, Latin America and Asia, and to provide equipment and other logistical and technical support to build the capacity of range countries to combat trafficking and poaching within their borders.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, who attended today's White House event and will oversee the Council's activities, noted that the ongoing slaughter of elephants and other species isn't just an issue in Africa.
“The United States is part of the problem, because much of the world's trade in wild animal and plant species – both legal and illegal – is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations. We have to be part of the solution,” Ashe said. “The species and habitats of our planet support billions of people and drive the world's economy. We all have a stake in ensuring their survival.”
Ashe added, “Similar demand for elephant ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. Though many populations showed signs of recovery due to increased protections in the 1990s, rising global demand for ivory is erasing those hard-fought gains.”
An estimated 11,000 forest elephants were killed in the past decade in one park alone (Gabon's Minkebe National Park), and the total population of forest elephants is down by an estimated 62 percent in that time period across the Central Africa zone. Elephant massacres have taken place in Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic in the past year, as well-armed and organized criminal enterprises have taken advantage of insufficient protection capacity in remote landscapes and the rising price of ivory on illegal markets.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will provide critical support this year through its Wildlife Without Borders Multinational Species Conservation Funds for 171 projects benefiting elephants, rhinos and tigers, and great apes. These projects will receive more than $8.6 million in grant funding that will be matched by approximately $14.3 million from foreign governments and non-governmental organizations. Many of those awards will be made in the coming weeks to help address the poaching and trafficking crisis.
Ashe also noted that citizens who want to directly contribute to on-the-ground efforts to protect these imperiled species can purchase the Save Vanishing Species semi postal stamp at their local post office or online. Sales of the stamp, which sells for just a few cents more than first class stamps, have raised nearly $2.4 million to support on-the-ground conservation of species through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders programs since the stamp went on sale in September 2011.
Thirty three conservation projects in 23 countries have already been funded with $1.3 million of stamp proceeds, with more to come. For more information on the Save Vanishing Species semi postal stamp, including where to purchase it, click here.
Due to security concerns and limited space, the upcoming ivory crush will not be open to the public. Invited guests and credentialed media will be allowed on site. Additional information on Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to support conservation of elephants and other imperiled species across the globe can be found at http://www.fws.gov/international.