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Beijing Launch of Harrison Ford PSAs

Claudia McMurray, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Beijing, China
July 1, 2008

Thank you so much for joining us today to view these public service announcements aimed at educating the public regarding the illegal trade in wildlife featuring renowned actors Harrison Ford and Jackie Chan.

It is common knowledge that animal species are endangered across the world, and most of the time people believe the problem is loss of habitat, human population growth, and human-animal conflict. But what 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, is a huge black market industry. And organized crime may be right at the center of it.

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 the conservative estimate of 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 the illegal wildlife 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 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.  So, to respond to this crucial issue, 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, both governments and 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.  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 wanted to shine a light on this tragic practice and to try to convince people that these illegal products don't need to be brought home--that coral necklaces, shark fin soup, 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 had a strong commitment to wildlife conservation. Last fall, Mr. Ford generously donated his time to film three public service announcements you will see today urging consumers both in America and other countries to stop buying illegal wildlife and wildlife products. 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. Reducing demand in China, and the United States, would be a dramatic step forward in resolving this difficult issue.


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