The African Poaching Crisis & America’s Responsibility
Following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on the poaching crisis, the U.S. International Conservation Caucus held a hearing to focus the American government’s response to threats to African stability and American security from increasingly aggressive poaching networks.
Witness testimonies were given by leaders in conservation:
Dr. J. Michael Fay – Senior Conservationist, Wildlife Conservation Society & Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society,
Ian J. Saunders – Director of The African Environmental Film Foundation &
Founder of The Tsavo Trust,
& David Barron – Founder of ICCF
Video of the testimonies can be found on ICCF’s website
From the Interational Conservation Caucus Foundation:
“Unless the United States takes strong action to combat the illegal poaching and trade of wildlife, terrorist groups will be increasingly fortified with funding and safe havens in Africa from which to launch attacks against the United States and our global interests.”
– David Barron, ICCF Founder
On November 15th, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-chairs of the International Conservation Caucus, held a bipartisan, bicameral caucus hearing to address the global poaching crisis. Poaching is financing terrorist and violent organizations, and increasingly brutal poaching operations are creating war zones between poachers and park rangers. Deteriorating governance in these areas is undermining stability and economies in the region and threatening U.S. interests.
Evidence is mounting that Al-Shabab, an al-Queda affiliate, and the Lord’s Resistance Army are using these illegal animal products to fund their brutal campaigns of violence throughout the region. The revelation of increasing involvement of militias and transnational crime networks in poaching activities elevates a conservation issue to a global security and foreign policy issue. Rep. Royce noted: “The U.S. has a lot of experience and some successes denting drug cartels, international arms traffickers, and terrorist networks – knowledge and lessons that could be brought to bear against these networks.”
The hearing took place less than a week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an event titled “Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action.” The event signaled the heightened emphasis the U.S. State Department is placing on the global poaching crisis within its foreign policy and security agenda. In her remarks, the Secretary identified a four-part strategy for addressing the global problem of wildlife trafficking, which included a plan to spearhead global coordination between heads of state to toughen anti-poaching laws and law enforcement efforts. She also announced that she has requested the intelligence community to produce an assessment of the impact of large-scale wildlife trafficking on American security interests.
Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats, who both appeared at Clinton’s event and testified at the Caucus hearing, emphasized that the State and Defense Departments and other government agencies are gearing up to become very active in taking on crime networks involved in poaching. The only way to be effective is for governments to partner with conservation and resource management NGOs and leverage the expertise of programs already on the ground.
Under Secretary Hormats noted that China, where a large portion of the demand for elephant and rhino parts exists, has very strict laws to protect the wildlife of their own country, particularly for pandas, but does not exercise the same vigilance to assist in the protection of other countries’ wildlife. The State Department is planning a trip to Beijing to address the global poaching crisis with the Chinese government and work with them to toughen their response to trafficking illegal ivory and rhino products.
Leaders of the U.S. Congressional International Conservation Caucus are seeking to dovetail their activities with the State Department’s by coordinating anti-poaching fact-finding and solutions in a bipartisan fashion with the Administration. Sen. Whitehouse noted: “While all responses to this issue are important, investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime is a particular responsibility of governments. The conservation community has played a key role… but they cannot combat militias or take down transnational crime.”
Renowned explorer Dr. J. Michael Fay, Senior Conservationist of Wildlife Conservation Society and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, testified to the magnitude of poaching’s impact on fragile economic and security environments in developing regions as violent groups “overrun” parts of central Africa and “thousands [of elephants] get slaughtered.” He went on: “With elephant poaching comes the same element that we see at sea: corruption, intimidation, illegal immigration, gun trafficking, criminality of all types.. [E]lephant poaching is merely symptomatic of bigger issues having to do with a lack of governance. This is where we need to take this bull by the horns through the entree of conservation and management of natural resources.” He noted that without the aid of military and intelligence services, governance will likely not return to regions destabilized by poachers.
One oft-repeated message in the hearing was that park rangers are consistently outmatched by well-financed, well-armed poachers, and are in great need of government support to obtain equipment (guns, ammunition, trucks, fuel, night vision goggles), to train, and toshare intelligence on poaching and wildlife trafficking activities with local law enforcement and military authorities.
Ian Saunders, founder of Tsavo Trust, which operates community conservancy land in Kenya, and former British intelligence officer who was active in counter-terrorism and anti-poaching operations in Africa, drove home the connection between poaching and al-Shabab activities in East Africa, including a breakdown of the costs to finance a terrorist attack funded solely with income from poached ivory. The 1998 terrorist attacks on the two US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam cost approximately $50,000, which could be paid for with just 1.6 tusks, he noted. Recent poaching trends have made it impossible to divorce ivory rackets from insecurity and political instability.
David Barron, founder of ICCF, ended the hearing with a list of specific recommendations for the U.S. Government to address the poaching crisis and combat the criminal organizations who use illegal wildlife products to fund their activities. “We can address this threat,” he said, “by tightening U.S. laws, regulations, and enforcement against illicit wildlife trafficking; cracking down on U.S. shell corporations that allow illicit groups to launder money through U.S. banking institutions; encouraging the U.S. military and other agencies abroad to take a more active role in understanding and reacting to illegal poaching activities; supporting countries in Africa with funding for equipment, training, law enforcement, and law enhancement activities; supporting capacity building activities in affected countries; and making U.S. defense and other financial support contingent upon foreign governments’ adherence to international law governing poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.”