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State Department Takes On Illegal Wildlife Trade

Hillary Clinton aims to create an international coalition to stop illegal wildlife trafficking

smithsonian.com

Image: Flickr user meaduva

Illegal trade of animals and their body parts ranks as one of the foremost threats to species such as tigers, elephants and rhinos. Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made tackling illegal wildlife trade one of her priorities.

“Over the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more dangerous than ever before,” Clinton said at a State Department meeting, according to AFP.

Much of the illegal trade is fueled by demand in China, Vietnam and other Southeast Asia nations for ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine and for wildmeat restaurants. Ivory sculptures and animal skins are also traditionally a sign of wealth in these countries.

Thanks to a growing middle class, more and more people are able to afford these items, so demand is escalating. According to experts, only the trade in drugs and illegal arms now rivals the animal black market for profit and expanse.

“Today, ivory sells for nearly $1,000 per pound. Rhino horns are literally worth their weight in gold, $30,000 per pound,” Clinton said.

Western countries are not removed from this problem. Clinton pointed out that the U.S. is the second largest destination for smuggled animal goods.

Clinton calls for a global network of cooperative partnerships that can begin the process of dismantling the complex criminal syndicates behind the trade. She hopes to get the new program off the ground with a $100,000 investment from the U.S., she said.

“It is one thing to be worried about the traditional poachers who come in and kill and take a few animals, a few tusks, a few horns, or other animal parts,” she said. “It’s something else when you’ve got helicopters, night vision goggles, automatic weapons, which pose a threat to human life as well as wildlife.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

In Vietnam, Rhino Horn Is Both the Drug of Choice at Parties and Hospitals 
$2 Million in Ivory Seized from Manhattan Jewelers

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