Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, in commemoration of World Wildlife Day on March 3, I rise to bring attention to the catastrophic effects of wildlife trafficking on global and economic security and the urgent need to crush this demand for these illegal products.
Conserving natural resources is a priority for me, particularly as Chair of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee; it’s a priority for my state of Maryland; and it’s a priority for this Administration. But the responsibility of protecting natural resources, such as wildlife, doesn’t just sit with one state or one country. It requires a coordinated, global effort. Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar per year, transnational, sophisticated network of organized criminals. As the demand for elephant ivory, rhino horns, and other wildlife products resurges, the trade has become an illicit business similar to drug and arms smuggling. And as such, we must approach the problem with an equally hard-hitting strategy.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reports that in 2012, an estimated 22,000 elephants were slaughtered across Africa. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, approximately 2,800 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2008, a more than 7,000 percent increase compared to the previous 17 years, mostly destined for Asian countries. Hundreds of park rangers are being gunned down by poachers, leaving behind devastated families with no income. Illegal wildlife trafficking threatens our species and is pushing some to the edge of extinction. The illicit trade hurts developing communities, damages tourism, risks people’s livelihood or worse, ends lives.
In February, President Obama released the first-ever National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. I joined colleagues on both sides of the aisle to urge the Administration to produce a bold, goal-oriented, and whole-of-government approach to combat this growing problem of illicit wildlife trafficking. I commend the Administration for its aggressive plan, and I hope we see swift implementation in the three areas of enforcement, demand reduction, and partner-building.
The image of wildlife trafficking is often tied to the African continent. But the other side – the consumer-demand side, primarily driven in Asia – must be viewed closely, as well. With growing wealth in the Asia region, wildlife is being used for traditional and non-traditional medicines, trophies, clothing, or pets. As the demand grows, the price of these products continues to skyrocket. We must leverage our bilateral and regional relationships to educate communities about the real effects of this trade.
As Chair of the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, I am particularly pleased to see the tremendous cooperation between the United States and China on this issue. At the 2013 Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the two countries committed to cooperate on enforcement issues and efforts to end the supply and demand for such products. On January 6, China destroyed more than five tons of ivory, publicly demonstrating their commitment to protecting elephant populations. The United States, Kenya, Gabon, and the Philippines have held similar events. In a joint one-month global operation earlier this year, the United States and China joined with 26 countries, plus international organizations such as ASEAN, to target wildlife trafficking criminals resulting in over 400 arrests and more than 350 major wildlife seizures. This type of collaboration is critical and more needs to be done.
At the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade February 12-13, 2014, representatives from over 40 countries joined together and issued a declaration urging action. There’s no doubt that governments recognize the urgency in solving this problem. But we need to build on this momentum, match our words with action, ensure developing countries have the capacity to address enforcement issues, hold criminals accountable, and educate communities to look beyond short-term benefits toward the dangerous long-term effects of illegal trafficking.
I urge all my colleagues to work together to strengthen existing laws, adopt new laws, and pressure consumers to put an end to this damaging trade before the illegal trade puts an end to our world’s most precious wildlife.