The Crush on Wildlife

Today, in Denver, the Department of the Interior is destroying the United States' entire stock of confiscated contraband ivory -- totaling nearly six tons.

With this action, the United States is sending a simple but powerful message to the sadistic poachers who kill elephants and other animals, and to all the traffickers who transport illicit cargo and the consumers who purchase these illicit goods: "You cannot and must not mistake our seriousness."

We're not in this fight alone. We are building on the work of Kenya, Gabon, and the Philippines, which have destroyed their ivory stocks in recent years. We encourage other countries to take a strong stand against wildlife trafficking by destroying their ivory stockpiles.

But make no mistake: The world needs to do more. Time is not on our side.

One night last year, American scientists at the Dzangha-Bai reserve in the Central African Republic were forced to abandon a long-term elephant research site in the middle of the night due to instability in the area. When they returned the following day, the scientists discovered an unspeakable scene: The herd of elephants they had observed for decades was dead and tusk-less. Criminals had shot the defenseless elephants from the very research platform where they had been studied for so many years.

This is not an isolated incident. When my wife Teresa and I visited a wildlife preserve and went on safari in 2007, I heard tragic story after story of similar episodes. Last year, we held the Foreign Relations Committee's first ever hearing on wildlife trafficking to underscore the extent of the crisis.

Slaughters of wildlife have grown exponentially. The scale, pace, and sophistication of elephant and rhino poaching are accelerating at a devastating pace. Not only are these majestic animals disappearing before us, as poachers grow in sophistication and firepower, this explosion in trafficking undermines the stability and security of range states, and imperils those whose livelihoods depend on these great creatures and ecosystems.

We do not have the luxury of time. We must act urgently and raise public awareness.

Just yesterday, on November 13, I announced a reward of up to $1 million for information to help dismantle the Xaysavang Network, one of the most prolific wildlife trafficking organizations currently in operation. This is the first reward offer under our Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program. Criminals and their accomplices are on notice.

And it's not just elephants and rhinos on the losing side of the rifles and machine guns. The accelerating demand for animal skin, pelts, bones and organs is decimating species across the world. When one species is gone, poachers move onto the next. If the current trajectory continues, many of these animals will go extinct during my grandchildren's lifetimes.

Reducing demand is part of any successful strategy to meet this challenge. Consumers can and must be partners with governments in disrupting the market incentives for traffickers. Because the reality is that prices for ivory and rhino horn are skyrocketing, which in turn leads to the knock down effects of more involvement of transnational organized criminals and other destabilizing elements, more corruption, and more collateral damage. Illicit funds allow poachers to ramp up their firepower and employ ruthless tactics that jeopardize communities and rule of law in countries across the globe. In Africa, poachers kill more than one hundred park rangers in the line of duty annually.

Wildlife trafficking is a conservation problem, an economic problem, a health problem, and a security problem. Our governments and citizens cannot afford to stand idle while poachers and wildlife traffickers destabilize whole regions, undermine economic development, and hunt elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears, sharks, or any species to extinction. Leaders everywhere must step up and meet the challenge of rooting out the corruption, graft, and complicity in the system that threaten all of us. The United States is committed to doing our part. Let's move forward.