Gabon marks first stop on three-country visit as part of Obama Administration’s work to address the illegal trade that threatens to wipe out elephants, rhinos, other iconic species
Date: January 25, 2016
Contact: Jessica Kershaw (Interior), Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov
LIBREVILLE, Gabon – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, co-chair of President Obama’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, concluded an official visit to Gabon where she met with senior government officials to discuss ways the United States and the African country can work together to combat the world’s growing illegal wildlife trade, which is having a devastating impact on species such as elephants and great apes, pushing them into further decline and even near extinction.
“Reversing the scourge of wildlife trafficking requires bold action and commitment from the United States and international partners, and it was encouraging to see how our partnerships on the ground in Gabon are helping the country take swift, effective steps to shut down this trade that threatens to wipe out species around the globe,” Secretary Jewell said. “Gabon has shown strong leadership in the region, and we support its progressive and ambitious vision for wildlife conservation and ecotourism while sustainably managing its natural resources. Leaders of both nations recognize the need to act now if we are to pass on a world to our children and grandchildren where marine and terrestrial ecosystems are intact and magnificent species still roam in the wild and are not just seen in history books.”
Marking her first official visit to the continent of Africa, Jewell and U.S. Ambassador to the Gabonese Republic and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe Cynthia H. Akuetteh met with Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba; Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, the Forest and the Sea Flore Josephine-Mistoul; Minister of Sustainable Development, Economy and Investment Promotion Prospects Regis Immongault; and Director of the National Agency for National Parks Dr. Lee White.
Secretary Jewell also held a roundtable discussion on wildlife trafficking with non-governmental organizations and conservation leaders, and visited Wonga-Wongué Presidential Reserve where innovative and enhanced law enforcement approaches have all but eliminated poaching activities, turning a 10 percent annual decline in the reserve’s elephant population into more than five percent annual growth. She also met with other international partners active in conservation efforts in Gabon.
Gabon is refuge to more than 50 percent of Africa’s remaining forest elephants, despite making up only 13 percent of the elephant’s historic range in Central Africa. Globally important populations of western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and leatherback sea turtles also range in Gabon.
Gabon and the Interior Department’s longstanding cooperative relationship has supported conservation activities in the nation by providing technical assistance with projects such as poaching and trafficking prevention, satellite land-cover data sharing, and staff and personnel exchanges involving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey.
FWS Director Dan Ashe met with senior environmental officials in Gabon in May 2015 to discuss international cooperation and review progress on FWS-supported efforts. Between 1993 and 2015, FWS invested over $27 million for conservation activities in Gabon, which helped leverage $22.5 million in outside funding. In 2013, FWS entered into a government-to-government cooperative agreement with Gabon to provide a framework for comprehensive conservation assistance, and expects to continue to invest $7 million per year through 2018.
Secretary Jewell also urged Gabonese leaders to continue their commitment to implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global effort that offers a framework for countries, governments and companies to publicly disclose revenues paid and received for development of public resources. The United States has led efforts around the world to encourage countries to comply with this transparency, accountability and good governance measure and itself is a candidate country.
Secretary Jewell’s visit to Africa follows her meetings in China and Vietnam last summer in a similar effort to further work to crack down on black markets at home and internationally. In November, Jewell also participated in bilateral meetings with senior officials from Gabon, Kenya and Namibia to discuss the countries’ shared commitment to addressing climate change, conserving protected areas and fighting wildlife trafficking in partnership with other consumer, transit and source countries.
The international outreach is part of President Obama’s National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking. The President’s July 2013 Executive Order established an interagency Taskforce on Wildlife Trafficking and an Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. President Obama in July 2015 announced new proposed regulations to prohibit most interstate commerce in African elephant ivory and further restrict commercial exports, which will result in a near total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory in the United States. The Administration has also used two high visibility ivory crushes in Denver and New York City to shine a spotlight on this growing epidemic. The Secretary applauded Gabon’s ivory crush, which took place in 2012.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which is currently under public and congressional review, includes the strongest international commitments to fight the illegal trade in endangered species of any trade agreement in history. While Africa is not part of the TPP, illicit wildlife parts and goods also pass through TPP waters, ports and countries. By increasing enforcement, enhancing information sharing and mandating action, the Obama Administration is working with other countries to cut off supplies of illegal ivory, rhino horn and other items and reducing poaching with the end goal of saving Africa’s iconic species.
Secretary Jewell will next travel to Kenya and South Africa to continue these conversations.
To view photos from Secretary Jewell’s trip to Gabon, visit Interior’s Flickr page.