World Wildlife Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society

International Conservation Must Remain an Important Consideration of U.S. Foreign Policy

Passage of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in 2016 in the U.S. Congress bolstered wildlife trafficking law enforcement and increased support for wildlife rangers. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

By John Calvelli
March 3, 2017

[WCS is recognizing World Wildlife Day with a series of blogs from across our programs.]

First celebrated in 2014, World Wildlife Day is an annual opportunity to shine a spotlight on the amazing creatures inhabiting our world, as well as the threats that are making the world increasingly less hospitable for them.

Wildlife trafficking continues to be a major driver of species loss. Around the globe, wildlife is being bought and sold on an increasingly massive scale.

The U.S. government has been an important partner in the fight to stop wildlife trafficking. Critical conservation programs are funded through the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Biodiversity Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Global Environment Facility.

The Save Vanishing Species stamp supported through the Multinational Species Conservation Funds has raised close to $4 million for conservation at no taxpayer expense.

Not only does this help wildlife, but U.S. national security interests are supported as well. Reports have often shown that the profits made from trafficking in illegal wildlife are used to finance illicit activities. Stopping these criminal networks supports good governance in some of the world’s most unstable countries. The U.S.’s support through these programs also showcases American leadership throughout the world while making it a safer place.

President Trump recently acknowledged the national security risks associated with the type of groups engaging in wildlife trafficking. On February 9th, he signed an Executive Order to better coordinate the U.S. government response to international organized criminal organizations and create a strategy to disrupt them. The Order specifically mentions groups that are involved in “the illegal smuggling and trafficking of humans, drugs or other substances, wildlife, and weapons.”

The U.S. government has been an important partner in the fight to stop wildlife trafficking. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

The renewed and continued focus on trafficking is crucial for some of our most endangered species. A WCS study published last August showed that forest elephants will take almost a century to recover from the intense poaching they have suffered since 2002.

Last September, the House and Senate agreed on final provisions of the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act, and it was signed into law by President Obama on October 7th. The legislation strengthened U.S. laws to target wildlife traffickers, including the authority to prosecute wildlife traffickers under federal money laundering law with higher penalties. It bolsters wildlife trafficking law enforcement and increases support for wildlife rangers, encouraging the transfer of military equipment for ranger use.

WCS Exec VP for Public Affairs John Calvelli announces passage of the National Bison Legacy Act with Congressional supporters, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). Photo by Chip Weiskotten/WCS.

Significantly, it also calls for the development of strategic plans for identified “focus countries” to address wildlife trafficking. The bipartisan bill was led by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and U.S. Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).

On World Wildlife Day, we recognize the importance of conserving wildlife, not only for the animals themselves but for the global benefits of a safer and more stable world.

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John Calvelli is Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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