Washington D.C. – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, inserted the following statement today, as prepared for delivery, into the record on full Committee hearing “International Wildlife Trafficking Threats to Conservation and National Security.”
“Chairman Royce, thank you for holding this timely hearing on an increasingly urgent issue – the illegal wildlife trade.
“On February 11, the administration released a comprehensive strategy to combat global wildlife trafficking. That same week, at a meeting in London, 46 countries agreed to take new steps to eradicate the supply and demand for illegal fauna and flora.
“This destructive and morally repugnant trade includes high-profile items like elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger parts, but also numerous other plants and animals, including exotic birds, timber and flowers.
“The soaring demand for these products as gifts, medical cures, and pets is having a devastating impact on animal populations around the world.
“For example, a report by the Bronx-based Wildlife Conservation Society and a number of other organizations found that elephants in Central Africa have declined by almost two-thirds since 2002, largely as a result of poaching. In total, more than 47,000 African elephants were killed in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s a terrible tragedy that rampant wildlife poaching is driving iconic animal populations toward extinction. But there’s also a national security dimension to this growing crisis.
“Illicit wildlife trafficking has become one of the world’s most lucrative international criminal activities, generating an estimated $10 to $20 billion every year. This is surpassed only by drug, human and arms trafficking as a source of illegal revenue.
“The proceeds from ‘blood ivory’ are increasingly used by insurgents and terrorist groups to purchase weapons and support other nefarious activities, which contribute to instability in Central and East Africa.
“These illicit financial flows also contribute to the corruption of public officials, which undercuts U.S. efforts to improve rule of law and governance.
“In Africa, natural resources are the foundation on which many countries intend to build their economic sectors and graduate from aid to self-reliance. However, the increasingly violent and rampant pilfering of these resources is a significant hindrance to the continent’s future economic growth and financial independence.
“In order to stem the continued rise of these destructive forces, we need to address the illegal wildlife trade on both the supply and demand sides. In ‘source’ countries, we must bolster the capabilities of forest rangers and other law enforcement. But we must also tackle the large market in the United States and the growing demand for wildlife products in Asia.
“To that end, the President’s strategy would ban the U.S. commercial ivory and rhino horn trade by closing loopholes in existing law. On the international front, it would set up public information campaigns with partner counties to help consumers make informed decisions about the consequences of purchasing wildlife products.
“We should also continue efforts to strengthen domestic laws and support law enforcement efforts. Last month, the Justice Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to successfully convict a rhino horn trafficker in my home state of New York as part of a nationwide operation called ‘Crash.’
“Internationally, I support the President’s efforts to strengthen regional wildlife enforcement networks, which improve coordination among law enforcement personnel from various nations. And I encourage greater cooperation between those networks and the existing North American Wildlife Enforcement Group, of which the Fish and Wildlife Service is a part.
“As we examine the wildlife trade and the administration’s strategy, I’d like to hear from the panel on how soon the various parts of the strategy will be implemented. I’d also be interested to know if Congress should consider any changes to current law to enhance our efforts abroad.
“The President’s national strategy and the recent London declaration are important signs that the United States and the international community are prepared to do more to stem the wildlife trade.
“But as we commemorate World Wildlife Day this coming Monday, words must be followed by action.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman and I look forward to hearing from the panel on those actions.”