New Duties for Holder and Kerry: Combat Wildlife Trafficking in Africa

By Susan Jones | July 8, 2013 | 10:50am EDT

Elephants gather at a dam inside the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in Dec. 2012. (AP File Photo)

( - President Obama has directed Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State John Kerry and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel to co-chair a Cabinet-level task force aimed at stopping wildlife trafficking in Africa.

"[I]t is in the national interest of the United States to combat wildlife trafficking," says the executive order, which Obama signed in Tanzania last week.

In addition to creating a Cabinet-level task force, Obama also directed the U.S. State Department to provide an additional $10 million in training and technical assistance to help Africa stop wildlife poaching. "This is in addition to the tens of millions of dollars provided annually by the U.S. government to combat wildlife trafficking," the Interior Department said.

As part of the effort, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will assign a wildlife trafficking specialist to the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

The executive order says the poaching of protected species and the illegal trade in their derivative parts is an international crisis that continues to escalate.

"Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates. 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. 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. Also, the prevention of trafficking of live animals helps us control the spread of emerging infectious diseases. For these reasons, it is in the national interest of the United States to combat wildlife trafficking."

Among other strategies, the United States "shall seek to reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife, both at home and abroad," and it will encourage other nations to pass anti-trafficking laws.

Obama directed his presidential task force on wildlife trafficking to develop and implement a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking within 180 days, and report to him through his national security adviser.

The executive order assigns leadership responsibility for the task force to the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Interior, and the Attorney General "or their designees."

The president's announcement is an "aggressive, coordinated response to an issue that has serious implications for Africa’s economy, its security, and its natural and cultural heritage," the Interior Department said.

"As wildlife trafficking has become more widespread, it has also become more dangerous, fueling international criminal syndicates, and undermining the stability of our allies. African nations have seen the professionalization of wildlife trafficking, with game wardens now regularly going toe-to-toe with gangs of poachers that more closely resemble militias than traditional small-scale operators. Poachers have begun using automatic weapons and combat equipment to conduct their attacks."

The Interior Deparment noted that last year, five Cameroonian wildlife guards were killed in a standoff with poachers. "Tragically, similar incidents continue to occur."

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