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Monday, April 6, 2015

THE FIGHT AGAINST WILDLIFE CRIME

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
04/01/2015 01:54 PM EDT
The INL Beat, February/March 2015
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Fighting Wildlife Crime
Date: 03/31/2015

In recent years, INL has significantly increased its effort to combat wildlife crime, as the problem has worsened and transnational organized crime has become more intricately involved in the trade. Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity that ranks near the top of the list of most lucrative forms of illicit trade, behind narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and counterfeiting. Trafficking of protected species fosters corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and eco-tourism revenues. INL has increased its programming and partnered with a wide variety of stakeholders including governments, communities, law enforcers, civil society, and the private sector, pursuing a multifaceted approach that includes capacity building, and multilateral action.

This month senior INL officials participated in several outreach events to raise public awareness of the importance of combating wildlife crime. In celebration of World Wildlife Day on March 3, Assistant Secretary Brownfield participated in a high-level stakeholder dialogue at the Central Park Zoo hosted by multiple UN organizations and NGOs. The theme for this year’s celebration, “Let’s Get Serious about Wildlife Crime,” refers to the need for countries to designate wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime” and to recognize the security threats posed by the growing involvement of transnational organized crime. Later in the week, Ambassador Brownfield participated in a live Q&A session on the State Department’s flagship Facebook page to answer wildlife crime questions from the public, journalists, and NGOs. Reaching over 1 million people worldwide, the Facebook Q&A gave Ambassador Brownfield the opportunity to speak directly to the public and offer them a chance to help in the fight. On March 9, INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Luis Arreaga joined private sector and civil society counterparts in a public panel discussion on international environmental crime issues at the Stimson Center in Washington.

In support of the interagency U.S. Implementation Plan that was released in February 2015, Congress has set aside $25 million for overseas law enforcement capacity building to counter wildlife trafficking, with work in four primary areas: 1) strengthening legislative frameworks; 2) enhancing investigative and law enforcement functions; 3) developing capacities to prosecute and adjudicate wildlife crimes and related corruption; and 4) supporting cross border law enforcement cooperation. Aligning with the Implementation Plan, INL has invested in tools and technology to better assist law enforcement efforts.

One of INL’s most important and exciting efforts to combat this threat is support for groundbreaking forensics analysis on ivory seizures. Together with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank, INL is supporting forensic DNA analysis by University of Washington scientists on major ivory seizures. This analysis compares DNA samples from major seizures against a database of existing DNA profiles of elephants across Africa, allowing researchers to identify the approximate geographic origin of individual ivory samples. The results show that the vast majority of large ivory seizures come from only a few poaching hotspots in Africa, far more limited than previously thought, providing a clearer picture of the trade routes in ivory trafficking. This information should greatly assist law enforcement in placing their limited resources in a focused area for a more targeted approach, helping to disrupt the criminal networks involved in ivory trafficking.