NOTE: This Column was authored jointly by Dan Ashe, John Cruden and Catherine A. Novelli.
Wildlife populations are in trouble. An unprecedented global demand for exotic wildlife products has triggered an industrial-scale killing spree of elephants, rhinos, tigers and other endangered animals. The old enforcement strategies are not enough to meet the challenge. To stop a consumer-driven illegal trade, we need to build a community of actors who bring a diversity of insights to the table. The private sector knows about supply and demand, understands supply chains, has insights into markets, and can educate consumers and influence buying decisions. Combined with governments’ ability to detect and prosecute, we have a chance to stand up to wildlife traffickers.
President Obama recognized this reality. His cabinet-level Task Force to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, led by our three departments, adopted a National Strategy that calls on the U.S. government to team with companies in sectors that illegal traffickers may be attempting to penetrate – retailers, and transportation, tourism and internet companies. By building partnerships we can support sustainable supply chains and avoid contributions to illegal wildlife trade. The National Strategy also challenges public and private partners to communicate the “hard truths” about wildlife trafficking – allowing consumers to understand how their choices impact our natural heritage.
In the United States a community dedicated to taking on this scourge is growing. A coalition of private corporations, for-profit media companies, and non-profit organizations and foundations, has come together as the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance to work closely with the U.S. government in a joint effort to address supply chain issues and shut off the demand for illegal wildlife products in the United States.
It is a remarkable effort. Non-profit advocacy organizations have thrown their weight behind the joint project, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, WildAid, the African Wildlife Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, and many others. They have been joined by media organizations such as National Geographic and Discovery Communications, and foundations that work in the area, including the Wyss Foundation and Vulcan Foundation, which funded the Great Elephant Census.
And corporate voices, including many international companies, are in the mix, working alongside non-profit wildlife groups to build consumer awareness and transparency. Companies that are actively participating in the Alliance include Google, eBay, Etsy, Tiffany’s, Berkshire Hathaway, Ralph Lauren, LiveAuctioneers.com, Jet Blue and many others, representing e-commerce, jewelry, fashion, travel and tourism sectors.
As the world concludes its gathering in Johannesburg for the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – we believe that the U.S. coalition effort is a promising example. Prince William in the U.K. is pioneering similar partnership-driven solutions. What if governments and powerful private sector players in every major demand nation pitched in to disrupt the supply chains that are bringing elephant tusks, rhino horns, tiger skins and other illegal wildlife products to market? The Alliance’s tag line “Be Informed #Buy Informed” reminds us that consumers drive demand. As WildAid, one of the Alliance’s members, reminds us: “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
Dan Ashe is the Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; John Cruden is the Assistant Attorney General at the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and Catherine A. Novelli is the Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment.