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U.S. State Department Cites Threats to Ecosystems, National Security, and Health from Illicit Trade
Washington, DC – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared December 4 the first annual “Wildlife Conservation Day” as part of a broader initiative to combat wildlife trafficking worldwide. International trade in live wildlife and wildlife parts and products is rivaled only by the trade in illegal weapons and drugs. The United States is the second-largest destination for illegally trafficked wildlife goods.
“We support every effort to combat wildlife trafficking and we are pleased that the State Department has recognized the importance of this issue,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s high time to crack down on the exploitation of imperiled species.”
Secretary Clinton committed the State Department to combat wildlife trafficking worldwide at a Partnership Meeting on Wildlife Trafficking in Washington, D.C., on November 8, 2012. She noted that illegal wildlife trafficking is not just an ecological problem – profits support rebel militias and insurgent groups, representing a threat to national security; heavily armed poachers have taken the lives of park rangers; wildlife shipped across borders with no regulation or inspection is a vector for disease.
WildEarth Guardians has sought protection for imperiled species affected by wildlife trade, both legal and illegal. For example, we have petitioned for the listing of 11 species of parachute spiders under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These tarantula-sized spiders are coveted for their jewel-like colors and are captured and sold as pets.
With Friends of Animals, we filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address overdue ESA petition findings for 12 foreign parrot species that are captured and sold in the U.S. as pets. The agency subsequently listed five species, one subspecies, and one distinct population of parrots as “endangered” under the Act, and another species as “threatened.”
Wild Earth has also petitioned to protect a number of marine species threatened by human exploitation. Queen conch are heavily impacted by exploitation for meat and shells; the U.S. annually imports 78 percent of all internationally traded conch meat. The National Marine Fisheries Service recently determined that the conch may be warranted for protection and is currently considering the species for listing. The largetooth sawfish and other similar species are affected by the trade in their “saws,” which are sold as trophies or curios. Guardians successfully petitioned to list the largetooth sawfish as “endangered” under the ESA. Findings on five other sawfish species are pending. We also petitioned 15 foreign sturgeon species that have been driven to the brink of extinction by the demand for caviar and meat.
We have petitioned for the listing of a number of sharks – including the dusky, great white, porbeagle, and scalloped hammerhead – that are endangered by the trade in shark fins. These “wolves of the sea” have diminished drastically in number due to human exploitation, threatening the stability and biodiversity of marine ecosystems. The scalloped hammerhead and the northeastern Pacific Distinct Population Segment of great white shark have received positive petition findings and are now undergoing a full status review.
Listing under the ESA has proven an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.
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Read excerpts from Secretary Clinton’s speech here: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/11/08/u-s-pursues-global-strategy-to-end-trafficking-in-wildlife/