Senator John Kerry and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations conducted a hearing yesterday regarding the challenges of illegal ivory trafficking from Africa. While the topic may seem less urgent in times when widespread unemployment, poverty and global economic crisis receive the bulk of officials’ attention, Senator Kerry believes that “we never have the right to turn our backs on the values that define us.” Poaching for the purpose of selling illicit ivory is a travesty, and responsible for the deaths of countless elephants every year:
Ivory trafficking negatively impacts threatened and endangered species, harms local populations, funds criminal organizations and undermines governance. With skyrocketing demand for ivory and an extremely adaptable, well organized, and highly capable population of poachers, the overlying question seems to be this: How do we combat this illicit industry? Dr. Ian Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants and the first of three witnesses at the hearing, gave a 3-pronged response: we must confront poachers in the field with better law enforcement, address the trade routes of the ivory (often several separate states) and reduce demand.
Tom Cardamone, Managing Director of Global Financial Integrity and the Task Force, followed by pointing out that the increasingly lucrative industry of wildlife trafficking has caught the eye of terrorist organizations, drug traffickers and rogue states as a promising source of funding. Today, wildlife trafficking remains one of most accessible and least penalized criminal industries with comparable profits to that of drug trafficking. The money is too easily laundered through an opaque financial system.
John Scanlon, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the final witness, emphasized that we must pressure China (the #1 demander of African ivory) and other importers to implement stronger preventative measures to eliminate the demand for Africa’s illicit ivory. Improvements in Chinese governance as well as China’s presence in African states are essential factors in the success of curtailing the conduits for ivory trafficking.
Senator Kerry concluded the discussion by saying,
The dots connect here to the whole issue of failed states, governance, lack of law enforcement, preying on people, the sort of random violence that comes as a consequence of this, the enormous sums of money… Criminal syndicates are walking away with billions of dollars out of this. And one of the things that I saw full-square in the 1980’s when we began to look at Noriega’s bank of preference and came across Osama bin Laden’s name. Was this as all interconnected? The opaqueness is used by all these illicit entities, including terrorist groups, to move their money, to avoid accountability, to stay outside governing structures. And all of those entities that are outside of those governing structures are depleting the capacity of states to function and to do what they’re supposed to do.
Senator Kerry synthesized the whole discussion well when he considered the larger global system. Opaque companies, governments and policies facilitate this type of dirty industry, and in the end, it is indeed “not just about elephants.” Issues such as this are enabled by the same global problems that allow things like terrorism and drug trafficking to exist. Turning our backs on this issue is turning our backs on our core values as well as a stable global future.
See the hearing here.
Learn more about ivory trafficking here.
Disclaimer: Unless specifically stated to be the views of the Task Force, the opinions expressed on this blog are solely the opinions of the individual blogger and are not necessarily those of the Task Force on Financial Integrity & Economic Development.