Remarks at the Wildlife Conservation Day Reception
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Thank you, Ambassador Locke, for that kind introduction.
It’s a special pleasure to be in China for “Wildlife Conservation Day,” and I want to thank all of you for your leadership in this critical area.
After all, your country is home to one of the most successful wildlife conservation efforts of recent times, having successfully increased the giant panda population from approximately 1000 in the 1970s to more than 1,600 by the 2004 census.
As you know, trafficking of wildlife also is a growing problem in Africa, and incidents of poaching in that part of the world are increasing at an alarming rate.
Rhino poaching, for example, has increased dramatically in South Africa over the last five years from only 13 rhinos poached in 2007 to 448 in 2011.
Killings of elephants for ivory unfortunately also are increasing. Earlier this year, for example, more than 300 elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon by heavily armed poachers.
Hong Kong authorities recently announced that they had confiscated $1.4 million worth of ivory that arrived smuggled in a shipping container from Tanzania, the second large seizure of tusks in a one-month span.
This issue has deep roots for me. During graduate school I spent a year in East Africa and worked as an assistant wildlife guide in some of East Africa’s national parks.
So, for me, poaching is a deeply personal outrage.
On November 8, Secretary Clinton hosted a high-level discussion at the State Department, issuing a call to action for all of us to work together to stem this growing crisis.
Our decision to organize this meeting came from our conviction that the nature of wildlife trafficking has changed.
We have always considered wildlife trafficking a critical conservation issue, and have been leaders in both global and national efforts to conserve wildlife.
However, the issue has now become an issue of national security, rule of law, health, and economic development.
Transnational criminal groups connected to terrorists, drug traffickers, and weapons traffickers, and well-armed poachers, are increasingly involved in the illicit trade.
Large-scale commercial wildlife trafficking now threatens security and stability in countries across Africa and parts of Asia.
I’ve heard of these concerns directly from African leaders. I travelled to Africa this summer, where I discussed this issue with leaders of Botswana and Namibia, and I joined Secretary Clinton in South Africa, where we heard about their challenges in protecting their national parks and the wildlife.
Many consumers do not understand that animals – and in some cases people who try to protect them – die in order to produce the turtle shell bracelet, the rhino horn powder, or the ivory carving.
To reduce demand, we need to educate people – make them aware that what they are buying is illegal, their actions support criminal networks, animals are being killed, and people are suffering as a direct result of that purchase.
We need to do a better job of understanding the entire supply chain – from poachers, to the transport sector, to sellers, and to buyers.
We also need to do a better job of tracking down the networks, of following the money flows, and of rooting out corrupt officials who help to move the illegal products all along the way.
To stem the latest trends in poaching, the Department of State has developed a four-pronged approach to:
(1) focus our diplomatic engagement – by working with you and other governments -to strengthen political will,
(2) raise public awareness, through events like the one here today,
(3) identify training needs, and
(4) to work cooperatively with NGO and private sector partners.
We have been working through our diplomatic channels to engage leaders on this issue – at APEC, with ASEAN leaders on the margins of the UN General Assembly, in Washington, and at the East Asia Summit – so that we can take steps cooperatively to address this problem.
We also are working closely with NGOs and the private sector to identify ways we can cooperate.
We collectively share a responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and support the development and security of countries suffering from wildlife trafficking.
That’s why combating wildlife trafficking has become a foreign policy priority for the Department of State. And we seek to cooperate closely with China in this endeavor.
Our two countries unfortunately find ourselves in the position of being destination countries for illegally trafficked wildlife parts.
We plan to take tough action. We urge China to do so, too, to put a halt to illegal wildlife imports.
In this context, therefore, I have met with Ambassador Zhang Yesui in Washington, I met earlier today with State Forestry Administration Vice Minister Zhang Jianrong, and prior to this event, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with NGOs.
It is very important that the United States and China – our governments, our companies, our civil society, and our citizens – continue to collaborate on this important issue.
Thank you for being here, and I look forward to meeting many of you.