On November 8, 2012, Secretary of State Clinton elevated illegal wildlife trafficking on the foreign policy and security agenda. Foreign ambassadors, leaders of public international organizations and nongovernmental conservation organizations, as well as representatives from the private sector, attended a major event hosted by the State Department entitled “Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation:  A Call to Action.”  

Secretary Clinton addressed the audience in a keynote speech in which she emphasized the urgency of the trafficking issue, noting that “over the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more dangerous than ever before.” Clinton said that the issue of wildlife trafficking is not just a matter of “protecting our planet’s natural beauty . . . it is also a national security issue, a public health issue, and an economic security issue that is critical to each and every country . . . . This is a global challenge that spans continents and crosses oceans, and we need to address it with partnerships that are as robust and far-reaching as the criminal networks we seek to dismantle.”

The Secretary outlined the United States’ four-pronged strategy to combat wildlife trafficking: 1) diplomatic outreach; 2) public diplomacy; 3) training, technology, and law enforcement; and 4) partnerships. 

  • The diplomatic outreach prong involves engaging both bilaterally and multilaterally to raise awareness and focus on the nexus between wildlife trafficking and global conservation, security, health, and economic development. It also involves working with international bodies like INTERPOL to fight wildlife crime, and augmenting existing international efforts such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • Public diplomacy focuses on raising awareness through making public announcements and mobilizing social media to help reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products. It also involves meeting with foreign wildlife officials and nongovernmental leaders to share best practices and lessons learned.
  • Under the training, technology, and law enforcement prong of the plan, the United States provides funding for wildlife protection efforts abroad, from preventing poaching to improving the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes.  It also includes capacity building, training, and helping other countries develop conservation plans and enhance law enforcement. In addition, it entails facilitating cooperation among the Department of Justice and agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the investigation and prosecution of wildlife trafficking cases.
  • The fourth and final prong, partnerships, entails working to improve communication and strengthen response actions by establishing a Global System of Regional Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs) and supporting international programs that aim to combat wildlife trafficking, promote wildlife conservation, and prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. This component of the strategy also involves expanding and strengthening existing partnerships, such as the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, as well as engaging with various stakeholders to develop best practices designed to prevent the illegal transport of wildlife and wildlife products.  Finally, this prong includes partnerships with the Smithsonian Institution for programs like biological research and endangered wildlife translocation.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg also spoke at the State Department event and made three new program announcements. First, USAID will form a new partnership with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the wildlife trade group TRAFFIC, called “Wildlife TRAPS” (the acronym for “Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment, and Priority Setting”).  Wildlife TRAPS will focus on trans-national trafficking. Second, USAID will join a World-Bank-led trilateral partnership called the Global Partnership for Oceans. Finally, USAID will develop a Technology Challenge on Wildlife Trafficking, in which it will engage scientists and entrepreneurs to devise and use technological solutions to combat wildlife trafficking. 

The United States is the world’s second largest destination market for illegally trafficked wildlife, such as elephant ivory. The newly energized strategy to combat wildlife trafficking and promote conservation suggests that national and international attention to these issues will only continue to increase. In turn, companies involved in international trade of fish, wildlife, and even plants and plant products, will face increasing scrutiny and enforcement risks. 

For more information about potential risks under relevant laws and the importance of compliance programs to help limit liability, check out our prior blog posts, publication, and advisory.