WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a full committee hearing on wildlife conservation:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this important hearing. And let me say that here in Congress, we didn’t hear a lot about wildlife trafficking—and the way it intersects with our national-security concerns—before you, Mr. Chairman, put this issue on our radar screen.
“You have demonstrated extraordinary leadership on conservation and wildlife issues for many, many years, and let me just say the impact of your efforts will be felt well into the future – both here in Congress and around the world.
“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. In particular, I’d like to thank Dr. Bennett from the Wildlife Conservation Society, in my backyard, for being here today. WCS is based at the Bronx Zoo right next to the congressional district I represent, it used to be in my congressional district but, you know, reapportionment took it out. But, not because I wanted it to be taken out, but, I’ve really enjoyed working with many of your colleagues over the years. It’s just extraordinary work that you do, and your organization does. Particularly, I want to single out John Calvelli who used to be my Staff Director here, for many years in Washington.
“We’ve focused a great deal on the challenge of wildlife trafficking in recent years. But poaching is still hovering at crisis levels. The number of Asian elephants has declined by roughly a third over the last ten years. Rhino populations have been decimated, with only about 30,000 left in the wild. The most trafficked mammal in the world—the pangolin—is seriously endangered. And the list goes on and on.
“And this is just wrong. I don’t want the next generation to grow up only knowing about elephants from the history books. We can’t allow these wonderful animals to disappear forever.
“But one of the main reasons we talk about this issue, here in the Foreign Affairs Committee, is that we have a national-security interest in putting a stop to wildlife trafficking. Just like trafficking in drugs, weapons, and people, wildlife trafficking feeds corruption, undermines the rules of law, threatens economic prosperity, and drives instability.
“Thanks to Chairman Royce, the END Wildlife Trafficking Act became law in 2016. And today, the Administration is coming up with a strategy to ramp up cooperation with the 26 countries that are major sources, transit points, or consumers of wildlife trafficking—what we call ‘Focus Countries.’
“We also need to pay more attention to the three countries designated as ‘countries of concern,’ in which government officials are complicit in the illegal wildlife trade.
“There are a range of things we can do to tackle the problem of wildlife trafficking. We can partner with other governments to train park rangers and equip them with cutting edge technologies to counter poachers. We can help identify and take down the international criminal networks responsible for so much of the illicit wildlife trade. And we can support efforts to reduce the demand for wildlife products.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on their important work in these and other areas.
“One final point: when it comes to conservation, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is climate change. All our efforts to protect habitats and species will mean nothing if we don’t protect the environment upon which all these animals—and all of us—depend. Literally every country in the world except the United States is now party to the Paris Climate Accord aimed at curbing climate change. We cannot speak credibly on the issue of wildlife trafficking if we continue to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world when it comes to climate change.
“So again, I thank you Mr. Chairman. I thank you for your work through the years on this important issue and I yield back.”
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