Today, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the growing poaching crisis in Africa. Witnesses, including renowned elephant expert, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, and John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, testified to the clear links between the surging illegal trade in high-value wildlife products, such as elephant ivory and rhino horn, and transnational criminal networks that are creating instability, breeding corruption and helping to fund militant insurgencies, particularly in Central Africa.
In his eloquent remarks opening the hearing, entitled “Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa”, Chairman John Kerry, made clear the crisis is a serious one with far-reaching consequences.
“Poaching is not just a security threat in Africa,” warned Senator Kerry. “It’s also a menace to developing economies, and it thrives where governance is weakest. Poachers with heavy weapons are a danger to lightly armed rangers and civilians as well as the animals they target.”
In joint testimony submitted to the committee, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC recommended that “wildlife crime needs to be treated with the same seriousness and level of attention that we give to other transnational organized crime.” The two organizations also urged “a concerted effort to greatly raise the profile of the illegal wildlife trade and to take this high profit/low risk crime and turn it on its head, so that it becomes a crime of high risk and low profit.” This will require “enhanced enforcement, more prosecutions, stiffer penalties and public commitments by those with power and influence to ensure wildlife crime is treated as a serious offense.”
Following the hearing, Ginette Hemley, WWF Senior Vice President for Conservation Strategy and Science, issued the following statement:
“We are once more at a crisis moment for Africa‘s elephants and rhinos. Today’s hearing provided clear evidence that the multi-billion dollar black market in illegally trafficked wildlife products is reaching new levels of intensity and driving poaching in Africa to dangerous levels not seen in decades.
We commend Chairman Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for shining a spotlight on this urgent issue and making clear the need to address it at the highest levels. The United States has long been the global leader on the conservation of these charismatic species, and the United States government has a pivotal role to play in arresting the current crisis.”