WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Department of State has announced that President Obama’s current visit to Vietnam has yielded a new agreement to address the escalating threat of wildlife trafficking. The five-year bilateral program will be mainly implemented through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with Vietnam’s counterpart agency, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, but will also be supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of State and other U.S. government agencies partnering with a variety of Vietnamese agencies in a “whole-of-government” approach, the State Department said.
“The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. Wildlife crime is a big business. Run by dangerous international networks, wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms,” according to the World Wildlife Fund, which together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), jointly formed an organization named “TRAFFIC” in 1976 to monitor this criminal activity. The ICUN Red List is an internationally recognized assessment of the conservation status of imperiled species around the world. Experts at TRAFFIC, while acknowledging that it is virtually impossible to get reliable figures, have estimated that the network of illegal wildlife trade “runs into hundreds of millions of dollars,” the WWF said. The State Department’s announcement hiked that estimate, maintaining that the “transnational enterprise generates billions of dollars of illicit revenue annually.”
Despite efforts by both the U.S. and Vietnam to curb wildlife trafficking, the trade continues to increase. For example, rhino poaching in South Africa increased 7,700 percent between 2007 and 2013, the WWF said. “It’s the largest direct threat to the future of many of the world’s most threatened species. It is second only to habitat destruction in overall threats against species survival.”
Such a large criminal endeavor not only threatens the survival of endangered species, it affects global biodiversity, impacts economies, fosters the spread of infectious diseases and threatens national security, the State Department said.
Vietnam has been identified as a “key node” in the illegal wildlife trade network, according to a report published last summer in the National Academy of Science’s journal. The report, which focuses on the trade in elephants, rhinos and tigers, and their parts, identifies major intermediary and import nodes in the network, and makes recommendations of ways to disrupt the network that echo the focus of the new bilateral partnership agreement, namely improved screening at ports, educational campaigns to reduce demand, and increasing conviction rates and penalties.
The four strategic areas in the bilateral agreement aim to reduce consumer demand and consumption, strengthen enforcement and prosecution, improve legal frameworks and support international cooperation. The two governments plan to accomplish these goals by collaborating with private sector organizations, international partners and the academic and scientific communities to provide training, technical exchanges and public education campaigns while also ramping up enforcement efforts.
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