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Illegal Trade in Wildlife and World Environmentl Day

Claudia McMurray, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Remarks at Launch of Harrison Ford Public Service Announcements
United Nations, New York City
June 5, 2008

Thank you so much for joining us today to celebrate World Environment Day and officially launch three public service announcements dealing with the illegal trade in wildlife featuring actor Harrison Ford.  It is common knowledge that large numbers of animal species are endangered across the world, and most people believe the problem is loss of habitat, human population growth, and human-animal conflict.  It what many people really do not know as much about is that animal species are also threatened by the bounty on their head. Wildlife trafficking – the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products – has become a huge black market industry.  In some cases, wildlife trafficking is posing an even greater threat to wildlife than the loss of their natural habitat.  And the numbers are staggering. Interpol estimates that conservatively the illicit wildlife trade amounts to about $10 billion a year globally and may reach as high as $20 billion.  Wildlife trafficking is increasingly linked to organized crime, including the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people.  Organized crime has discovered that this illegal trade is very profitable. In some cases, it rivals the economic gains made from trafficking in drugs and weapons.

As Newsweek magazine put it in a recent issue, endangered animals are the new “blood diamonds.” There is evidence that smugglers of contraband tend to use the same routes and methods, regardless of the items smuggled. Profits from wildlife trafficking are huge, with far less risk than other crimes.  Tragically, the effect wildlife trafficking has on the broader social fabric is often lost. It lowers the economic value of legally traded goods, contributes to poverty, and encourages lawlessness.  To respond to this crucial issue, almost three years ago the United States formed a partnership called the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, or CAWT.  We started in 2005 with five partners from civil society. Our approach at that time was, and remains, that no one government or private group could combat this sophisticated criminal activity alone and hope to succeed.

Today, CAWT has 19 partners, including the governments you will hear from this afternoon, and 13 international non-governmental conservation organizations - all dedicated to stamping out this illegal trade. Through the Coalition, we seek to end the trade by curbing both the supply and demand for illegal wildlife and wildlife products. We are creating new international networks for effective law enforcement, and we are also educating consumers.  As one way to improve law enforcement, the Coalition worked with the 10 Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) to establish a regional wildlife enforcement network – ASEAN WEN.  ASEAN-WEN, in its brief existence, has already produced a string of impressive law enforcement successes through bi-lateral and multi-lateral cooperation and intelligence sharing. And we are encouraging other regions to establish similar enforcement networks

Just two weeks ago, ministers from the countries of South Asia, working with the United States and CAWT partner TRAFFIC International, have agreed to form a regional wildlife enforcement network in their region. We are committed to helping them establish this network of eight nations in a very important part of the world. Making a dent in wildlife trafficking through strengthened enforcement is only part of the solution, however. We must also work to stamp out demand for these products.  The two biggest markets for illegal wildlife and wildlife products are China - #1, and, I’m sad to report, the United States, which is #2. The European Union is a close third. Consumers worldwide are buying these products when they travel, on the Internet, and sometimes even in shops at home. In most cases, they think that what they are buying is perfectly legal.  We consider it the job of the United States government to let Americans know that this is not the case.  We wanted to shine a light on this practice and to try to convince people that these illegal products don't need to be brought home--that coral necklaces, ivory carvings, and shatoosh shawls are really things that we can live without.

Working with our CAWT partner Conservation International, we were able to enlist the help of the actor Harrison Ford, who has for many years served on CI’s board and had a strong commitment to wildlife conservation. Last fall, Mr. Ford generously donated his time to film the three public service announcements you will see today - urging consumers – both in America and other countries – to stop buying illegal wildlife and wildlife products.  We are here today as part a truly global launch for these wonderful PSAs.  In addition to this event, over 30 U.S. embassies in countries across Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Pacific will launch these ads and highlight the work of partner organizations working to protect wildlife

In Latin America, for instance, in Brazil, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago, the PSA announcements will appear repeatedly on major local TV and cable media to reach wide audiences (13 TV stations in Brazil alone!). Similar media campaigns are planned in Africa, involving countries from Cameroon to Nigeria to Kenya, which will include public ceremonies endorsed by national leaders.  In Europe, the PSAs will not only be shown on local media but will be screened in Swiss movie theatres and in large public events such as one highlighting partner efforts of World Wildlife Fund in Germany. Nine countries, including India, Indonesia and Thailand will air the PSAs in local movie theatres, preceding show times of the new Indiana Jones movie. In the Pacific region, a major launch event is planned at Queensland’s Australia Zoo, and in Fiji the PSAs will be seen by tourists boarding planes and staying at hotels. We expect to reach an audience of many hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, in producer and consumer countries alike, showing them the critical role the public can play in stopping the illegal trade in wildlife

As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, the illegal trade in wildlife is a shared global problem that can only be addressed if we all work together.  The United States is fortunate to count five dedicated governments among its Coalition partners, and I would like to give each of them the opportunity to say a few words. First, I am honored to be able to introduce Ambassador Karen Pierce of the United Kingdom, Ambassador Nirupam Sen of India, Ambassador Robert Hill from Australia, Ambassador John McNee from Canada and Ambassador Heraldo Munoz from Chile Thank you

Before moving to our other speakers, I would like to recognize the Coalition partners who are with us today

  • Cheetah Conservation Fund - Katherine Powers
  • Humane Society International - Kitty Block
  • IUCN and TRAFFIC – Narinda Karka
  • World Wildlife Fund – Jason Patlis
  • Save the Tiger Fund - Mahendra Shrestha
  • Smithsonian Institution - Scott Miller
  • Wildlife Alliance - Charles (Chuck) C. Goodfellow

Three speakers who work closely with us generally and on these ads:

  • Wildlife Conservation Society – Steve Sanderson
  • Conservation International – Glenn Prickett
  • WildAid – Peter Knights

I now have the pleasure to introduce our friend and special envoy, Bo Derek.  To focus public attention on the illegal trade in wildlife, in 2006 Secretary Rice named American actress Bo Derek as her Special Envoy for Wildlife Trafficking issues. Ms. Derek has traveled to San Francisco and Miami, and now today here to New York, to make Americans aware of wildlife trafficking. She has also traveled overseas to draw attention to the plight of endangered animals.



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