A Solid Foundation to Stop Wildlife Trafficking in 2017 and Beyond

A baby rhino in Africa
A baby rhino. (Photo by DOI)

The world’s wildlife is under siege. Over the past four decades, wildlife populations have declined by nearly 60 percent on average, and projections indicate that by 2020, vertebrate populations may have declined by two-thirds in the previous half century as a result of climate change, habitat loss, and – especially dispiriting – poaching.  Indeed, it is poaching – the intentional killing of wildlife to feed market demand for illegal wildlife products – which has emerged as the most acute threat facing some of the world’s most iconic animal populations. 
Over the past couple of years, however, important progress is being made in addressing the poaching crisis.  The President’s Task Force to Combat Wildlife Trafficking developed and put in place a National Strategy for addressing this national – and global – crisis.  One of its key conclusions was that the U.S. and other major trading nations reduce consumer demand for ivory, exotic skins, scales and other animal parts. It emphasized that traditional NGOs and government agencies cannot do the job by themselves.  Companies need to close off their supply chains; corporations and NGOs must reach out to the public, with the help of media experts, and raise awareness of the crisis and shut off the U.S. and other markets for illegal wildlife products.
With strong support, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Task Force, and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance has been bringing together all of these players in a unified, whole-of-society effort to attack the problem. Congress has joined in the effort too.  Through its bipartisan passage of the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (“END”) Wildlife Trafficking Act, Congress is requiring that the work of the Task Force continue, and has called for on-going reports of progress made under the National Strategy and its Implementation Plan – including the demand reduction efforts that the Alliance and its partners are focusing on. 
Over the past year, the Alliance’s network of partners has expanded to include e-commerce giants fashion industry icons, and travel industry leaders. Earlier this year, these companies – and many others – committed to take action, and they have made good on their promises. Their commitment to corporate social responsibility is commendable, and is going a long way to show how these actions are good for wildlife and the environment—and good for business as well.
We already have a lot to show for our efforts to work with our members by tapping into their creativity, and applying their vast influence across their market sectors to educate their customers about the dangers of wildlife trafficking. For example, we have collaborated with nonprofits like WWF, WildAid, IFAW and TRAFFIC to develop an e-commerce policy framework that will simplify shopping guidelines for consumers, identify prohibited products and eliminate loopholes that make easy for criminals to traffic wildlife online. 

While the U.S. has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the largest markets for illegal wildlife products, we can lead the way by making a difference here at home. This year, we’ve laid the groundwork for a lasting, whole-of-society effort to spread awareness and block traffickers at every turn. And next year holds even more promise.