Robert D. Hormats
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Central Park Zoo, New York, NY
July 15, 2013

As Delivered

Thank you very much Cristián [Samper] for that very kind introduction. I want to express my appreciation for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for hosting this terrific event. Thank you to all of the NGOs who are here and participated in the meeting with Hillary Clinton, and who are here to discuss this issue this evening. I have to say, when I took over the job – originally I came to do Economics, Business, and Energy Affairs, and then Hillary Clinton asked that I also take responsibility for conservation issues and environmental issues. When I took the job, the first item on my agenda was wildlife. I want to share a few thoughts as to why that is the case.

When I was a graduate student, I was worked on economic development in east Africa, including Tanzania and Kenya. I finished my research and still had six months to go on my fellowship. I decided that I would stay in the region. I got a job as an assistant guide for photo safaris in the national parks of east Africa. During that period, I developed an enormous respect for the work done to enhance the prospects of these wonderful animals. The wildlife of that region is so important not only to the region, but to our heritage and the world. These are really important parts of the heritage of many people around the world, including the people of Tanzania, Kenya, and elsewhere.

When I was there, I developed a very strong personal commitment to the efforts taken around the world to ensure that these animals survive and thrive. I was particularly outraged when I learned from the press, the intelligence services, and our embassies, about the slaughter of wildlife in various parts of Africa and other parts of the world today. I was determined to do something about this while I was in office. I was fortunate having Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State, since she was extremely committed to this, and also to the many people on the team at USAID, the State Department, and many other agencies of the government working on this.

The fact is that we are facing two major challenges. One is moral outrage of the wanton and needless slaughter of so many animals. Elephants, rhinos, and many other animals are being killed. And for what? For ivory ornaments that they can put on their mantle pieces. In the case of rhinos, for rhino horn powder, which people allege cures diseases such as cancer. We know that it does not. The tragedy is that so many animals are brutally slaughtered for these ornaments and fake medicines.

The United States cannot do it alone, but we certainly can provide greater leadership than we have in the past. There has been a lot going on and there needs to be more. We need to work with other countries, such as China. I have been to China to discuss this issue with the State Forestry Administration. We had some success during the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the Chinese just a couple of days ago. For the very first time, we had a session devoted entirely to working together on the protection of wildlife, stopping the trafficking of wildlife and demand, particularly demand generated by China. We are making some progress.

Today’s event is really an example of the very strong collaboration we have with the many NGOs that have been very involved in this. Wildlife Conservation Society has demonstrated enormous leadership, moral leadership. I think that is so important here. This is a foreign policy issue and a national security issue. And, this is a huge moral issue for me, for many of you, and for many around the world.

The tragedy of all this is that the threat to these animals has grown dramatically over the last several years. Numbers demonstrate this. The way this poaching has been conducted has changed. The kinds of arms that are used, and the strategy that goes behind it, and the volume of killings has gone up so substantially.

What I’d like to do in the next few minutes is give you a sense of what we in the State Department are doing, how we see the situation, and what we are doing to change with respect to our own diplomatic initiatives. I’d also to share a few thoughts on where we need to go in the future.

Let me discuss the situation as I see it. What is so tragic about this is that the scale, pace, and sophistication of the killing of elephants and rhinos and other animals – they are all accelerating at a very rapid pace. An estimated 25,000 elephants were killed in the year 2011. Ivory seizures are up substantially. We only really see a fraction of the ivory that is out there, but seizures are going up.

What is very serious is the amount of arms and the type of arms that are used. Very sophisticated arms - AK-47s – and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) are being used. They come from Sudan, Libya, and other parts of the world. Many of these elephants are being shot from helicopters. Where do these people get the helicopters? Where does the money come from? These are very serious issues. More and more countries are vulnerable.

The Ambassador from Gabon is here, and his President Bongo has taken a major leadership role in trying to curtail this. We see elephants killed in Mali and in the Central African Republic, and this environment is continuing. I’ll mention other countries as well. Cameroon and Chad have been victims.

We are also seeing this spread to Southern Africa. In Kruger National Park, where there had had some killing before, we now see large numbers of people coming over the border from Mozambique killing these animals, retreating back, and selling this ivory around the world.

In East Africa, this is also a scourge. More killings of elephants, rhinos and other kinds of animals are taking place. We are seeing ports like Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, and others used to transport these products. We are seeing the elephant populations diminish dramatically, and this is something that is very serious.

Certain parts of East Africa, areas where the animals have been very well protected in the past, now are increasingly vulnerable. This is because of the type of arms that are used and the numbers of poachers involved. Why have they gone up? This has become an increasingly lucrative process of killing animals and selling them, largely because demand has grown so dramatically and the prices for ivory, rhino horn, and other products has gone up.

Let me give you an example. In South Africa, more than 400 rhinos have been slaughtered since January. The rhino populations in South Africa are declining. The poaching numbers are expected by the South African government to continue to increase. We are also increasingly concerned about Botswana and Namibia, both of which have very large populations of elephants. So far, there has been relatively little poaching, but the concern is that more of these poachers will move into places like Botswana and Namibia, because it is so lucrative.

One of the tragedies is that it is not just a poacher here, or a poacher there. These really are part of organized criminal syndicates. I think we really have to look at it that way. These are criminal syndicates, like those that engage in trade of drugs or human trafficking. These are the kinds of criminal syndicates that move products, money, people and weapons around the world, and enable people to engage in the horrible slaughter of these animals. We have to look at these not as random events, but as massive amounts of money and large numbers of people, people who have very sophisticated strategies for moving the ivory, the rhino horn powder, and other animals around the world.

These are things that are particularly important from the point of view of the State Department, which is why we are heavily involved. The State Department’s concern for our planet’s wildlife is not new, we have been concerned about this for a considerable period of time. The urgency of the situation has grown dramatically. Therefore, we, as the State Department and the U.S. government, need to do a lot more both in terms of our own policies and also in terms of international leadership. This is one of the things I want to talk about. We are trying to realize our own capabilities, and utilize our leadership and our convening power.

As many of you are aware, on July 1, President Obama signaled his intent to take a tougher view on this issue and to have the U.S. government do so as well. He signed an Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking. This puts in motion a process that will marshal substantial new efforts, better coordinate our existing efforts, and enhance what we are doing in working with other governments. It will also toughen our own laws and our own practices. We are going to have a group co-chaired by the Department of State, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Justice. We have had conversations with the Department of Justice to step up and enhance the penalties for wildlife trafficking. The goal is to not only to catch people, but to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. This is not a crime where we can give people a light sentence. We want to have very tough sentences here, and then we will be in a much better position to ask other countries to enforce their laws more strictly and impose tougher sentences.

We are working with demand countries, supply countries, and transit countries, through various multilateral fora to ensure that they have tougher laws. In cases where they already have tough laws, we are working to make sure those laws are enforced. I mentioned one new and important step we are taking is to utilize the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the Chinese, which is really our top-level dialogue with them, to discuss wildlife. In the last two trips I made to China, I had conversations with the State Forestry Administration, which in China is the group that is responsible for the protection of wildlife. Many of you know that the Chinese protect their own wildlife with tough laws and penalties. We are trying to work with the Chinese to have them take that same tough attitude toward the importation of ivory, rhino horn, and other things.

I met with NGOs in China and they gave us very good ideas on how to work with the Chinese. Confronting the Chinese is not an answer and will not get results. We are working to try to develop a partnership as a country that also imports illegally traded wildlife. The first meeting with the Chinese at a senior-level, which I co-chaired along with the Head of the State Forestry Administration on the Chinese side, produced some important results. Most importantly, it provided a very focused follow-up mechanism by which we can work closely with the Chinese over a period of time.

We have also used groups like APEC, ASEAN, and the G-8, to focus on this issue. We have a number of statements made by the Leaders at the G-8, the OECD, and the East Asian Summit. We all know that communiqués themselves really don’t achieve a lot unless there is follow-up. They do one thing, which is to focus the attention of Heads of State on the issue, which is something we had not been able to do to any great degree except over the last year and a half.

What is really important is the actions we are taking to follow this up. This is really where we are trying to put a lot of pressure on countries and also provide assistance to those countries. We know that the top markets for many of these products, ivory, rhino horn, and many other products, is East Asia and South East Asia. We are trying to find ways of taking action with these countries, utilizing our embassies and our own diplomatic corps and the foreign diplomatic corps to make progress.

When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, we worked very closely together. We had a large group of people attend what was called “ A Call to Action.” She chaired this meeting and gave a rousing and focused speech on what needed to be done to address this issue. We have been able to, utilizing that meeting, have lots of follow-up from our agencies. I am very pleased to say that Secretary Kerry is also very strongly committed to this, and I believe, is going to carry on this tradition.

We have also worked a lot with NGOs and the private sector. One of the ways we are able to get the information we need is to talk to the NGOs and the real experts on the ground. Iain [Douglas-Hamilton], for instance, has been a fabulous advisor with really superb ideas on protecting elephants. I have learned a lot, so I want to particularly thank you for protecting elephants, and for your advice. And, I want to thank all of the NGOs who provide information to us.

We also tried to improve focus through what we call Wildlife Conservation Day. Fifty U.S. embassies had events to try to heighten awareness in countries. We are pleased to see March 3 has been designated by the UN as World Wildlife Day to raise awareness on this issue.

We have to find ways of going after the kind of people who are engaged in this wanton slaughter and wildlife trade. We are working very closely with the CITES Secretariat, Interpol, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, and the World Customs Organization, and others. One of the things we have done over the years is to establish what we call Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs) in key locations around the world. Currently there are ten existing WENs. We are trying to develop more of these, and we would like them them to coordinate better with one another so that they can learn from one another.

We are putting $10 million to support law enforcement and criminal justice capacity building in Africa, in Central Africa, East Africa, and southern Africa. We are working very closely with Africom, which is the American military that operates in Africa, to help them to understand that the movement of these poachers across borders is a threat to wildlife and to the security of these countries. In many cases, there is so much poaching happening that people are subject to corruption. These poachers have so much money that they undermine the stability of the countries in which they operate. We are trying to work with our military, particularly Africom, to help them play a role interdicting the movement of arms across borders. These arms may be intended for wildlife poaching or other kinds of activities that these people engage in highly vulnerable countries, where they do not have the capability of addressing this problem on their own.

We have seen good work from a number of companies, like Costco, which is conserving tiger habitat through pine nut purchasing, or Google Earth, which is sponsoring a set of grants to advance new technologies to keep track of where the poachers are and where the killings are so that we can have better information.

We are doing something that we have never done before. We are using the American intelligence capabilities around the world to get more information on how the money moves, who is engaged in this activity, how they are trafficking once the animals are killed, and how these people get helicopters, Ak-47s, and other heavy weapons. We don’t have very much. We have a lot on drug trade, because we know where the bank accounts are, who is engaged in it, and how to go after them. A lot of the prosecutions result, both by the United States and other governments, because we provide information to help them deal with drug trafficking and arms trafficking. We have not done very much yet on wildlife trafficking. We hope to have more information from our intelligence services. Once we have more information, we can take action through our Justice Department and encourage other countries to take action. This is one of the major areas for the State Department to engage over the next several years.

We want to work with other governments to develop their capacity to interdict the movement of arms across their borders. We want to find ways of stopping the kind of poaching that is going on in such large numbers and in such high volumes. The scale of this is increasing dramatically. One of the things we are trying to do is to get some of these countries to take tougher action. In many cases, these countries do not have the severe penalties to control the illegal trade in wildlife. CITES deals with the international trade, but we want countries to take ownership themselves.

We are seeing this in some countries. I had the opportunity to go to Namibia, to the King Nehale Conservancy, which is right near the Etosha National Park. They have these 75 local conservancies, where each village or group of villages near animals’ habitats take responsibility for these animals. They do this in part, because the government gives them a certain amount of money. The U.S. government has been very helpful in providing support through the Millennium Challenge Corporation efforts in Namibia. The other reason is economics. They get, in some cases, 15 percent of their GDP from ecotourism in countries such as Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya. If you kill the animals, you kill the ecotourism. These villages do not have another source of income. If there is ecotourism, people come to visit, buy things, and stay in these areas. What we are trying to do is find ways of taking this wonderful model that has come out of Namibia and encourage other countries to do something similar. We have provided money for this, but it is not just the money. It is helping countries to learn from one another. Other countries can use Namibia’s model, and this will be very helpful.

We also have training programs. We have a training facility in Gabarone, Botswana, which I had the opportunity to visit, and one in Bangkok, Thailand. These facilities help justice departments, police, and border guards become more conversant with modern techniques. We provide them with equipment, such as night vision goggles, so that they can track these poachers.

The fact is that this challenge is going to be more and more difficult to deal with unless we have a major international effort. The United States has to be the leader. This will not work if the United States does not lead. We have the opportunity with the Executive Order President Obama signed, the leadership former Secretary Clinton exhibited, and Secretary Kerry’s strong commitment. We have the opportunity at the top to emphasize the importance of this issue in various international groups. The key is whether we can execute on the ground, by mobilizing Africom and our embassies, and working effectively with NGOs. If we can ensure that our Justice Department takes tough action at home, then we can encourage others to take tough action in their countries. These are the kinds of challenges that I think are extremely important.

I will not be at the State Department much longer. From my point of view, this is something the State Department should look at today, and we should establish a process to ensure that this whole effort continues and is a very high priority going forward. I think that we have a moral obligation to address this issue, not just because these animals are being killed in such large numbers, but because this is really something that we can do for coming generations. What kind of world would it be if these magnificent creatures are made extinct by poachers? What responsibility do we have to deal with this problem? I would say we have an enormous responsibility. If we do not do it in this generation, then many of these animals will not be around for the next generation, or the next generation.

This is the critical time. The scale is increasing. The sophistication of the killing has increased. The vulnerability of governments who cannot protect these animals is becoming a bigger problem. This is not something we can let go. We need to find ways of addressing this issue now. If we cannot do it now, we are going to have a big problem later. Therefore, this is a challenge for all of us. The challenge is to understand that this is an urgent situation and mobilize as many resources as we can in this country and in other countries.

We have raised this issue to a high-level. Heads of State are now focused on this. Now the real problem is, can we deliver at the programmatic level? Can we provide the kind of support these countries need to protect their wildlife? Can we utilize these regional wildlife groups, the WENs, to encourage greater collaboration among these countries? Can we utilize the ability of the United States as a convener to pull other countries together and get them to take tougher action? Can we take the kind of legal actions that are required to make sure that people realize that when they engage in poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking there are going to be very tough consequences?

These are the challenges that we face. I think that there is at least an opportunity now that we did not have a couple of years ago. But we are not there yet. We need to do a lot more. We need to be a lot more committed and devote the resources, the political level commitment, and the commitment of law enforcement officers here and around the world.

The urgency is now. This is the time to do it. If we delay, if we simply let the next generation do it or let someone else do it, that is not the answer. We need to do it. We need to mobilize sufficient support within this country and around the world to make sure that this gets done. It is a moral obligation. It is a national security issue because it destabilizes governments. It is a foreign policy issue. If we don’t do something about it, it helps to strengthen organized crime, and that is destabilizing to many parts of the world, and it is a threat to us as well.

This is a high priority for all of these reasons. I am very grateful to all of you who have participated, taken on this moral challenge, and have devoted your lives to addressing this issue. I want to commend you. Thank you for coming out this evening. The State Department will continue to be your partner. I will continue to be your partner. I want to be able to play a very active role when I leave government. I want to make sure that we follow-through on the commitments made and that we implement. I want to make sure that we take the action to protect wildlife all around the world.

Thank you very much.