U.S. Trumpets Warnings Re: Rhino and Elephant Extinction, Urges International Collaboration to End Wildlife Trafficking

Trumpeting African Baby Savanna Elephant_Michelle Gadd_USFWS_pubdomain

A baby African Savannah Elephant trumpets his excitement. Source: Michelle Gadd, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain).


U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell spearheaded an African hunt of a different kind in January – a hunt for supporters to save the world’s most magnificent animals before they are lost from the earth forever. Jewell, who co-chairs President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, led the American delegation during the Obama Administration’s three-country visit to Africa, and met with senior government officials, conservationists, and officials from key non-governmental organizations “to discuss ways the United States and [Gabon, Kenya and South Africa] can work together to combat the world’s growing illegal trade in wildlife that is driving several species toward extinction.”

The population of black rhinos alone has declined by 98 percent since 1960, and roughly 770,000 African elephants have been lost to poaching, culling, capture, and other forms of herd thinning from the robust 1980 population of 1.2 million.

Jewell’s visit comes on the heels of last summer’s meetings to stamp out the black market trade of ivory and endangered animals in China and Vietnam and November’s meetings to encourage the involvement of Gabon, Kenyon and Namibia in climate change and conservation initiatives.

In Gabon, a refuge for lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, leatherback sea turtles, and more than 50 percent of the last surviving African forest elephants, Jewell shined a light on that nation’s anti-poaching efforts at its Wonga-Wongué Presidential Reserve – law enforcement initiatives so successful that they have turned Gabon’s annual elephant decline from a 10 percent loss into a heartening five percent growth.

America has long supported Gabon’s efforts to preserve its natural heritage. The U.S. Department of the Interior has shared land-cover data, shared staff and provided other technical assistance with conservation projects while he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has invested, since 1993, more than $27 million for conservation in Gabon which, in turn, helped garner an additional $22.5 million in outside funding. FWS plans to provide an additional $21 million between now and the end of 2018.

“Leaders of both nations recognize the need to act now if we are to pass on a world to our children and grandchildren where marine and terrestrial ecosystems are intact and magnificent species still roam in the wild and are not just seen in history books,” said Jewell.

In Kenya, Jewell visited the Port of Mombasa, a major transit point for the Africa-Asia black market wildlife trade, and successfully concluded the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Interior Department, USAID and the Northern Rangelands Trust to support the Trust’s work with 33 community conservation agencies to protect cheetah, elephant, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe, hirola, oryx, and rhinoceros populations across northern Kenya.

More than 50 percent of the Grevy’s zebra population has been extinguished in the past two decades, and northern white rhinos may be on their last legs.

“By strengthening our strategic partnership with Kenya, we will work together to crack down on this illegal trade that is threatening to wipe out entire species and push others to the brink of extinction.”

Jewell’s final stop in South Africa, home to more than 90 percent and 40 percent, respectively, of the world’s white and black rhinos, shined more light on the looming extinction of both species. Just 5,000 black rhinos still draw breath – a number which will likely decline further by the time you reach the end of this article.

Sadly, in addition to rhinos, hundreds of other species are also now on South Africa’s endangered species list, including the African elephant and lion, samango or blue monkey, cheetah, and Tsessebe antelope (“the greyhounds of the antelope world,” according to the South African Tourism Head Office).

In addition to meeting with concerned South African officials, Jewell also joined South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, in touring “a recent wildlife crime scene … to better understand the nature of these crimes and the potential for collaboration to reduce poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife products.”

Also dialoguing with Jewell during her January coalition building tour were:

  • Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba;
  • Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta;
  • China’s Ambassador to South Africa Tian Xuejun;
  • U.S. Ambassador to the Gabonese Republic and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe Cynthia H. Akuetteh;
  • U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec;
  • Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities, Professor Judi Wakhungu;
  • Gabon Minister, Flore Josephine-Mistoul (Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, the Forest and the Sea) and Regis Immongault (Sustainable Development, Economy and Investment Promotion Prospects);
  • South African Ministers Naledi Mandisa Pandor (Science and Technology);
  • U.S. Embassy Pretoria Chargé d’ Affaires Catherine Hill-Herndon; and
  • Directors of key wildlife and national park programs: Fundisile Mketeni (South African National Parks), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya Wildlife Service Board of Trustees), and Dr. Lee White (Gabon’s National Agency for National Parks).

In July 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order creating the interagency Taskforce on Wildlife Trafficking and an Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking and, in July 2015, he also proposed new regulations which is projected to effectively ban commercial African elephant ivory trade in the United States. The U.S. could further strengthen these efforts if Congress and the public throw their support behind the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which would reduce poaching and curtail the supplies of rhino horn and elephant tusks that fuel terrorists as well as traffickers.

“We know that if we are going to address this scourge, it will require international cooperation at all levels of government,” said Jewell. “Together we can ensure these magnificent creatures will be here for future generations, driving tourism revenue and supporting conservation that is sustainable for both rural communities and wildlife. The United States is committed to deepening our partnerships with African countries to address this growing, international challenge.”


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