“We need to protect the source, break the chain and stop demand”

Washington, D.C. – November 8, 2012 – The following statement has been released by Dr. Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who moderated a panel at the U.S. State Department today on urgent issues surrounding wildlife trafficking. The event was hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“WCS is proud to join with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. State Department and our NGO partners on new initiatives designed to stop wildlife poaching, illegal logging and unregulated fisheries.

As attested by her focus on illegal wildlife trade during recent travels in Asia, Secretary Clinton has proven herself a committed leader on combating trafficking. Her call-to-action today should serve as a catalyst for more public awareness and engagement and an organized response to this threat which is decimating species populations and endangering lives.

Illegal trade in wildlife, timber and fisheries is estimated to be fueling illicit economies around the world at approximately $10-15 billion annually. Wildlife trafficking is among the world’s most lucrative illicit economies, second only to illegal drugs and human trafficking.

Populations of many of our most charismatic and best-loved wildlife species across the world are declining precipitously due to wildlife trafficking and the people protecting them are being killed in the line of duty.

This year alone, 30,000 African elephants will be killed for their ivory. In February of 2012 alone more than half of the elephants in one national park in northern Cameroon were slaughtered by armed militants from Chad and northern Sudan. African ecosystems are being disrupted, and tourism, a major source of national revenue, is being undercut.

It is estimated that 448 rhinos were poached last year in South Africa alone, and rhino poaching has extirpated two African subspecies over the last decade.

Only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, and of those, probably only 1000 are breeding females. The recent decline has been fundamentally due to poaching for their body parts.

More than 25 million sharks are killed each year, more than one third are either endangered or threatened and in the case of hammerhead sharks their population has declined more than 90% since 1970.

All of these species are declining because they are hunted for the international wildlife trade. This trade is mostly illegal and highly lucrative and spawns corruption and the breakdown of law and order at both local and national levels.

The revenues generated by the sale of wild animals support local insurgencies and terrorist activities and promotes political instability. The wildlife products travel through organized crime networks, especially between Africa and high-end markets in East Asia.

Smuggling of wildlife across international borders also bypasses quarantine and other health regulations which risk the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, monkey pox and others. These viruses and diseases have the potential of impacting human health including causing death, harm international commerce and disrupt local economies.

We need to protect the source, break the chain and stop demand.

In the short term, we need to protect the populations in the wild through increased enforcement, capacity building and technology transfer. For example, the United States has taken a leadership position through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. The Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and the African Wildlife Foundation in collaboration with our governmental partners are working across Central Africa to protect the wildlife and their forests.

We know what works and if these initiatives can be scaled up at the regional and global level we will gain valuable time to save these vulnerable populations. Reducing demand through enforcement and increasing awareness at the consumer end will be critical for our long term success.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

Chip Weiskotten – 202-624-8172; cweiskotten@wcs.org
Mary Dixon – 347-840-1242; mdixon@wcs.org