Are taskforces effective in curbing illicit wildlife trade?

On February 2014, President Obama approved the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and Commercial Ban on Trade in Elephant Ivory. This strategy entails strengthening U.S. role in combating wildlife trafficking, including: strengthening both national and global enforcement, reducing consumer demand, and strengthening partnerships and relations with nations, NGOs and private organizations.

Additionally, U.S. departments and agencies will work to enforce the commercial ban on trade in elephant ivory. These departments and agencies work to prohibit the export and import of elephant ivory, curb the domestic resale of elephant ivory, restore the protection of African elephants component in the Endangered Species Act, and to limit sports hunting of African elephants.

Just last month, Prince William announced the creation of an international taskforce under United for Wildlife, during his speech to the World Bank. The taskforce’s primary objective is to reduce wildlife trafficking within the transportation industry, including airlines. Additionally, the newly-created taskforce will work to foster international cooperation in combating wildlife. William Hague, the current chair of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and former British Foreign Secretary, will lead the taskforce. The Duke of Cambridge also urged the World Bank to take greater action in combating wildlife.

According to a recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) guest blog post by Allen Grane, since a majority consumers of African wildlife products are outside Africa, the formation of the newly-created taskforce could actually curb illicit wildlife trade in the transport industry. The blog post also cited an August 2014 report, titled Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Ivory, noting that the four major source airports of elephant ivory transportation are the: Kenyatta Jomo International Airport (Kenya), Bole International Airport (Ethiopia), OR Tambo International Airport (South Africa), and Quatro de Feveiro Airport (Angola).

How can the Duke of Cambridge’s newly announced taskforce, as well as the Obama Administration’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking effectively curb wildlife trafficking?

On October 2014, the Washington Post reported that U.S. port of entries lack sufficient wildlife inspections, as there are only fewer than 330 Fish and Wildlife Services inspectors in the largest port of entries. Furthermore, the Obama Administration’s national strategy does not strengthen the role of wildlife inspectors at port of entries.

If the United States lacks sufficient wildlife inspectors and enforcement in major port of entries, then it is difficult for the Duke of Cambridge’s task force, or just about any taskforce or organization, to curb wildlife trafficking within the transport industry.

In order to reduce wildlife trafficking, particularly within the transport industry, nations must have the will to address wildlife trafficking; furthermore, capacity building of wildlife law enforcement officials and inspectors is also critical to curb wildlife trafficking. David Hayes, the current vice chair of President Obama’s advisory panel on wildlife trafficking, stated, “our nation hasn’t prioritized wildlife trafficking.” David Hayes is correct—developed countries, particularly the United States, must prioritize wildlife trafficking, and they must also enhance the role of wildlife inspectors at port of entries.

It is also critical to address the four major source airports in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and Angola. The role of taskforces, particularly the newly-created taskforce, may not be effective in solely addressing wildlife trafficking within the transport industry. Therefore, multilateral organizations must take a greater role. The multilateral organizations that comprise the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), such as CITES, INTERPOL, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization, should focus on combating wildlife trafficking in the source airports and ports. These organizations will be effective in capacity building and intelligence gathering. However, the source nations must have will to prioritize combating wildlife trafficking in source airports and ports.

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