White House Commits $90 Million to Fight Wildlife Trafficking

(CN) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to London on Thursday to announce the United States will invest a minimum of $90 million to counter illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking over the next year.

The attorney general delivered the news at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London before an audience of foreign dignitaries that included Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

The international program, which spans two days, is an offshoot of a summit held in the United Kingdom in 2014 where 42 nations signed a joint declaration to address poaching and illegal trafficking.

Sessions said Thursday the U.S. views poaching of protected wildlife as a “threat to good governance, a threat to rule of law and a challenge to our stewardship responsibilities for this good earth.”

According to the Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank based in London, more than $20 billion is earned annually by those who smuggling endangered species.

In some markets, Sessions noted, just one kilogram of rhinoceros horn can fetch up to $70,000.

The horn is largely coveted in Asia where it is used for traditional medicine and is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

“These criminals must and can be stopped,” Sessions said. “Future generations must not say that the nations of the world sat back or responded with action that was too little or too late, while great species disappeared forever.”

Sessions told conference-goers that the Justice Department will continue to focus on stopping the sale of illegal wildlife products in the U.S. by expanding partnerships with international agencies also monitoring the trade.

Just last year, he noted, agents arrested and imprisoned a California man who was caught selling black rhino parts to a federal agent posing as a taxidermist.

Poachers or smugglers who flee prosecution from one country will not be given entry into another, he said, before lauding one of Trump’s first executive orders  which recognized wildlife trafficking as a “dangerous form of transnational organized crime … much like drug and gun trafficking.”

Since 2014, the U.S. has committed over $370 million to anti-wildlife trafficking programs and in 2016, Congress passed the END Wildlife Trafficking Act to tighten regulations.

Since then, the U.S. has increased the funding for ranger training networks and for the hiring of poaching investigators and prosecutors.

The $90 million investment will “redouble” the department’s efforts to disrupt trading and smuggling as the U.S. strengthens its partnership with the Financial Action Task Force Global Network, he said.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will soon place five new criminal investigators at American embassies, bumping the grand total of those agents to 12.

The recently signed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement also includes provisions to combat wildlife trafficking through more thorough customs inspections.

Some of these efforts are already underway, Sessions said, noting that a department prosecutor has been relocated to Laos to serve as a “resident legal advisor” for Southeast Asian countries fending off traffickers.

A forum focusing on the wildlife trade will be hosted by the department later this month.

Crawford Allan, a wildlife tracking expert at the World Wildlife Fund, attended the conference in London and told Courthouse News on Thursday that Sessions’ promise of investment was welcome one, but may not be enough.

“The US is an indispensable global leader in combating wildlife crime in terms of resources, influence, and on the ground support overseas,” Allan said. “But the challenge of wildlife trafficking that conservation, enforcement, private sector and communities face is getting bigger every year.”

To “win the battle,” he said, more funding must follow – but not just from the U.S.

“The U.S. needs to encourage other nations to join them with significant contributions,” he said. “Resources matter and much is already being done with those already allocated.  We know what solutions are needed, we just need to scale them.”

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