The uproar over the recent poaching and killing of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the Lion has thrust wildlife hunting and trafficking back into the international spotlight.
On the heels of President Obama’s recent visit to Kenya, he announced on July 31 the formation of the United States Wildlife Trafficking Alliance - a voluntary coalition of non-profit organizations, companies, foundations and media interests that will be working closely with the U.S. government in a collaboration to reduce the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife and wildlife products.
U.S.-based tech giants Google, Facebook and eBay, and luxury apparel and accessory companies including Tiffany and Ben Bridge Jewelers have been among the first companies to join billionaire Warren Buffett and over a dozen environmental groups in a new effort to fight the illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger bones, and other products driving wildlife toward extinction. The Alliance aims to bring together all elements of civil society, including interested companies, foundations, and non-profit organizations, with the goals of:
- Raising the public’s awareness of the scope of the wildlife trafficking crisis, including the illegal trade’s devastating impact on elephants, rhinos, tigers and other irreplaceable species, and illegal traffickers’ role in funding global corruption and terrorism;
- Reducing consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products; and
- Mobilizing companies to adopt best practices to insure that their goods and services are not being utilized by illegal wildlife traffickers, and to assist in raising public awareness and reducing demand.
“I think many of us feel there is a moment in time here,” said Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation, a founding member of the Alliance. “We feel we are nearing a tipping point that would get wildlife numbers headed in the right direction again, but we need a surge in awareness and action to get definitively over that hump. We need to focus people now and get this done.”
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Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and co-chair of the Alliance, said: “There is no question that how we deal with wildlife trafficking activities here in the United States will have an enormous influence on our global success in dealing with the crisis.”
Non-profit Alliance members include the National Geographic Society, the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the Humane Society of the United States, Conservation International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Paul G. Allen Foundation. Additional NGOs will be welcomed as founding members of the Alliance in the coming weeks, with more collaborators expected to be announced at a meeting at the White House this fall.
The Alliance launches at a critical time for species such as lions, which conservationists fear could be extinct by the year 2050, and elephants, which are being poached at a rate of nearly 100 a day.
“The Alliance is not meant to have long-term goals or even exist long term,” Bergin said. “If this thing becomes too long term, by definition we will have failed.”
As he told Take Part, the most immediate goal is to educate the American public about the problem and get them to take action.
“We want to create a mass movement in American society, where the average person on the street is aware of the poaching and trafficking issue and stands up to say this is not acceptable and it must stop.”
The Alliance’s first actions include getting the word out with the help of its corporate partners: Google, Facebook and eBay are working on an anti-trafficking awareness campaign; while Tiffany & Co. and two other jewelry companies owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway have committed to keeping ivory out of their supply chains, something the Alliance hopes will become an industry standard.
Bergin said this is only the beginning.
“We want shipping and transportation companies to be more rigorous in ensuring that they are not transporting illegal wildlife products,” he said. “We will want fashion and media companies to help mobilize their customers and users not to consume wildlife products, and to support bans on the sale of ivory in their states.”