President Barack Obama this week announced a new federal initiative to fight against wildlife poaching and trafficking in Africa. Launched under an executive order, the program calls for the State Department to provide $10 million in technical assistance and training in Kenya, South Africa, and the sub-Saharan region, where elephant and rhino populations have plummeted at alarming rates.
The White House also established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking charged with creating a national strategy within the next six months. The task force will include members of the Interior, Justice, and State Departments, and will be advised by an eight-member panel of experts.
Elephant populations are declining at alarming rates
Obama announced the initiative Monday in Tanzania, wrapping up the last leg of his weeklong trip to Africa. Economic and infrastructural development has been a recurring theme throughout the president's voyage. On Sunday, the White House unveiled an ambitious $7 billion plan to double access to electricity in Africa over the next five years.
Obama's wildlife initiative comes at a critical time for elephant and rhino populations. According to the the UN Environmental Programme, the global ivory trade has doubled since 2007, and tripled since 1998. In 2012, approximately 30,000 elephants were illegally slaughtered, the most seen in two decades.
On the black market, rhinoceros horns sell for around $30,000 a pound, while elephant tusks fetch approximately $1,000 a pound. The market is driven primarily by demand from China and other Asian countries, and multilateral efforts to ban the trade have proven difficult to enforce. Experts say that on a global level, the wildlife trafficking market is valued at between $7 billion and $10 billion.
Obama's plan draws praise from conservationists
Conservationist advocacy groups lauded Obama's announcement yesterday, saying the initiative could give wildlife poaching and trafficking some much-needed global attention.
"We applaud President Obama’s executive order to elevate the US government's engagement in the fight against the growing illegal wildlife trade," the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in an e-mail statement to The Verge. "The president's decision to prioritize the issue will hopefully save hundreds of lives of people on the frontline of this battle, and also save hundreds of thousands of individual animals exploited by this brutal trade."