Less than a week after making an unprecedented climate change speech at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama took another historic step for the environment by signing an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking.
The order pledges $10 million to combat the illegal wildlife trade, a presidential task force that will develop a national strategy and a promise to work with international groups and governments to crack down on trafficking.
“The survival of protected wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna, and turtles has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations,” it reads. “Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security.”
The order came during Obama's trip to Africa, signaling international cooperation for what has been deemed by many to be an enormous global crisis. A number of animal welfare organizations, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the International Fund for Wildlife Welfare, released statements supporting the president’s action.
According to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, the administration began implementing the order within 24 hours of it being signed. “This administration ... is very serious about taking on this global challenge, a challenge that the entire world needs to address,” Hayes said on a World Wildlife Fund press call.
Illegal trafficking and poaching has significantly increased in recent years, and has been deemed a security threat by both the United Nations and the State Department. "We have a wildlife trafficking, poaching, murdering crisis,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at Conservation International's New York gala dinner earlier this year. She went on to discuss poachers that recently invaded an animal sanctuary and killed 26 elephants, and pushed for tougher ivory penalties in the U.S.
Elephants, rhinos and tigers are just a few of the threatened animals. Carter Roberts of the WWF said in the press call that over 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers in the last year alone. Between 2007 and 2011, rhino poaching increased by 3000 percent in South Africa, and 78 percent of Sumatran tiger deaths come from poaching, WWF reported.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Jeff Trandhal called the current wildlife trade a never-before-seen “epidemic.” Although a number of governments and wildlife organzations have utilized different tactics to fight the trade, Trandhal said that there “has never been a single, coherent strategy” until now.