U.S. Ambassador Thomas F. Daughton remarks for Opening the Second Regional Workshop for Prosecutors and Magistrates on Combating Wildlife Trafficking
Good morning. It is a pleasure to welcome you to Windhoek and to this second workshop on Combating Wildlife Trafficking Crime. The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have worked closely together to make this series of workshops a reality. As senior judges, magistrates, and prosecutors from all over SADC, you understand the importance of fighting wildlife trafficking. And your presence here today helps emphasize its importance.
Wildlife trafficking is an international crisis. Poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products create one of the largest black markets in the world, measured in billions of U.S. dollars a year. The U.S. government has long supported action to reduce wildlife trafficking and poaching. In 2013, President Obama set up a whole-of-government Task Force to develop and implement a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. That national strategy was deployed in 2014. One of its three pillars is to strengthen international cooperation in fighting wildlife trafficking.
The United States applauds the efforts of SADC Member States to address this challenge head-on, including your efforts to promote your own whole-of-government response and your efforts to increase regional cooperation. I am pleased to be able to say that the United States is supporting you every step of the way. For example, bilaterally here in Namibia, the U.S. government recently announced a US$!.8 million (NA$26 million) grant to support efforts to fight wildlife trafficking in Namibia. We are also pursuing more than US$500,000 (NA$7 million) in assistance to help equip the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s new anti-poaching training facility in Waterberg Plateau National Park. All this comes on top of hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars we have given every year for more than a decade to support conservation of Namibia’s vitally important rhino populations.
And, of course, there is this training program, which emphasizes the prosecution and adjudication of wildlife trafficking crimes – a critical element in the fight against wildlife trafficking. When prosecutors improve their skill at building strong cases against wildlife traffickers and when judges and magistrates know better how to adjudicate such cases, more of these criminals will be brought to justice and stopped from continuing their destruction of Southern Africa’s natural heritage.
Wildlife traffickers strip the natural beauty that attracts visitors to Southern Africa. Not only does this rob communities of important potential tourism revenues, but it also has a devastating impact on the biodiversity of all of the countries represented here today. Illegal poaching over the last century has caused a devastating loss of wildlife in Southern Africa. At current poaching rates, rhinos, elephants, and many other species could disappear within our lifetimes. If we do nothing, future generations may never have the chance to see these majestic creatures in the wild.
Beyond just threatening our shared natural heritage, wildlife trafficking also endangers peace and stability. The black market for illegal wildlife products may be worth as much as US$19 billion a year, and it is only getting more profitable. These black market profits are increasingly used to fund transnational criminal organizations, undermining national, regional and ultimately global security. And once a criminal gang figures out how to traffic wildlife products, they can use that same expertise to traffic other sorts of contraband, such as drugs and weapons. You can help change this. When the risk of being caught and punished becomes high enough, wildlife traffickers will think twice before continuing to kill wild animals for their own criminal benefit.
Your expertise and your ability to stop this illicit trade at the source are a cornerstone of worldwide efforts to stop wildlife trafficking. I want to thank you for your commitment to building your knowledge and skills to fight wildlife trafficking in your respective countries. I hope you share the valuable information you learn here with your colleagues when you return home. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated in 2014 on World Wildlife Day, “Today, our shared natural heritage is threatened, and time is not on our side.” It is crucial that we all do everything we can to stop these inexcusable practices and finally put an end to the trafficking of a precious and finite resource that rightfully belongs to all humankind.