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One Way to Fight Terrorism? End the Ivory Trade

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Recently, I had the honor of taking part in an extraordinary event at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) where nations and NGOs made a historic commitment to end elephant poaching by stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking and stopping the demand for ivory.

Wildlife trafficking is currently the fifth most profitable illegal trade (after drugs, human trafficking, oil theft and counterfeiting). Ivory is one of the most valuable wildlife products on the black market; it's currently valued at more than US $1,000 a pound. In addition, it is virtually untraceable -- as the domestic trade of ivory is still legal in some countries, it's nearly impossible to tell its source or legality.

The illegal wildlife trade is a stark example of the direct connection between natural resources and both U.S. and global security. Wildlife trafficking, a $7-10 billion enterprise, funds terrorist groups like the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, Darfur's Janjaweed militia and Al-Shabab, the Somalian terrorist group responsible for last month's horrific murders at a Nairobi shopping mall.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the world stage and highlighting the devastating impact poaching and wildlife trafficking have on African nations, as well as on world security. Her passion and dedication to stopping trafficking was evident earlier this year when she engaged in a discussion at our New York dinner with Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford, and spoke so eloquently about the devastation caused by traffickers who now arrive equipped with automatic rifles and other advanced technology.

Secretary Clinton and Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton were responsible for bringing us together to commit to stopping wildlife trafficking. They deserve our thanks and gratitude for putting this issue on the CGI agenda.

The current status of global elephant populations is unquestionably bleak. Last year alone, 35,000 elephants were brutally slaughtered for the ivory trade. If poaching continues at its current rate, the forest elephants of the Congo Basin are predicted to become extinct within a decade.

The frightening escalation of elephant poaching in recent years is largely due to increasingly sophisticated technology. These days, poachers associated with criminal groups use helicopters, AK-47s, night vision goggles and other tools to find and kill elephants more quickly and to avoid detection. Facing such high-tech forces, park rangers and guards (who are often unarmed) don't stand a chance. About 1,000 park guards have been killed over the last 10 years.

What we're seeing here is the perfect storm of extinction, poverty and radicalism. We're seeing the deterioration of societies and a massive threat to the stability of not only African nations but the entire world. A crucial step in changing this equation is to ensure that the ivory trade comes to an end.

At the CGI meeting, Conservation International and four other organizations -- the Wildlife Conservation Society, the African Wildlife Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and WWF -- made a joint commitment of $80 million over three years to fight elephant poaching in three ways: stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.

We have defined some really clear benchmarks, ranging from hiring 3,100 new park guards to deploying sniffer dogs at 10 key transit points to launching communications campaigns in the countries with the largest markets for ivory. (You may be surprised to learn that the United States is the second-largest market for ivory, after China.)

I believe that the area where CI can make a particularly important contribution is in fighting ivory trafficking. We need to work closely with our friends in African nations to assist them in developing strategies for enforcement for tracking illegal ivory and blocking its sale.

While I look forward to CI's engagement in this critical initiative, I am glad to see African nations taking ownership of this problem. Many of these nations have recognized and are concerned about the future of their elephants, which are valued economic assets.

Wildlife tourism is estimated to make up 20-40% of all international tourism; in Africa in particular, it provides a promising economic opportunity for impoverished communities. And when you lose your elephants to poachers, the vast majority of the people -- as well as the nation as a whole -- don't benefit.

President Ian Khama of Botswana, whom CI is privileged to have on our board of directors, has seen that depending upon wildlife guards to be effective responders to sophisticated international criminal networks is not effective. That's why his government has set up a national security force that engages the country's entire military in fighting poaching. This initiative has been relatively effective to date, but President Khama worries that Botswana's comparatively large elephant population will become more of a target.

This week in Botswana, CI, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank convened government ministers from several African countries to advance the Gaborone Declaration -- a set of principles and goals aiming to better acknowledge the value and contribution that nature makes to the health of African states. Part of the conversation was about setting up a shared training program about how to engage national security forces to fight poaching.

At the CGI event, a number of African nations called for moratoria on the sale of ivory until the African elephant population has sufficiently recovered. In doing so, they are essentially saying, "We want to solve this problem; it is essential to the future of our people."

These countries are the backbone of this movement, but they need help from the rest of us -- partner governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals -- to help them get there.

Peter Seligmann is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Conservation International. This post was originally published on Conservation International's blog, Human Nature.