An evolving national security threat
While wildlife trafficking is largely dealt with off the shores of the United States, it has a critically important connection to our own national security.
The illegal trade of endangered wildlife products is worth in the range of $7 billion to $10 billion annually; the legal trade is valued at $300 billion.
The concern most people think of when they hear about illegal poaching is the tragic decline, and elimination, of animals like the African forest elephant or rhinoceros. Last year alone, there were over 32,000 elephants poached, which is an increase from 2012. A decade ago fewer than 100 rhinos were killed, but last year more than 1,000 were poached for their horns.
However, a security threat has continued to evolve as more animals have been poached - the intersection of wildlife trafficking with terrorism. This is a growing risk that the U.S. must work to stop and dismantle quickly.
As chairman of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee I am deeply engaged on this national security issue to ensure our country has the tools it needs to act with force to prevent wildlife trafficking from being a primary method for extremist to fund their attacks.
Extremist groups like Al Shabaab in East Africa are finding financial support through the illegal ivory trade. One such reason is that it’s very difficult to trace the financial transactions when an elephant tusk or rhino horn is sold on the black market. As extremist groups struggle for funding in part because of the U.S. along with our allies successfully drying up their financial resources, they are looking for new ways to pay for their operations.
What the U.S. is also learning is that the financial cost to fund terrorist attacks abroad can be accomplished at a minimal cost, which also directly relates to the illegal sale of ivory. For example, the estimated cost of the terrorist attacks on the two U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998 cost approximately $50,000. This is the cost equivalent of selling 1.6 elephant tusks. In other words, the poaching of one middle-aged elephant could have funded the embassy bombings. As these animals become more scarce the black market costs for their parts have only increased.
The United States has made poaching and wildlife trafficking, especially as it relates to national security, a priority. A new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking was unveiled in February to strengthen the U.S. leadership on this issue. This new approach aims to strengthen enforcement of current laws, reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife and expand international cooperation.
As the illegal world of poaching evolves, the U.S. has to be on the forefront of preventing these activities before they destroy a population of magnificent animals and allow for the funding of more terrorist related destruction.
Member of Congress