Wildlife and Foreign Policy: What’s the Connection?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a discussion this morning with foreign diplomats, government officials, civil society leaders, and business representatives on illegal wildlife trafficking and animal conservation. Protection of endangered species such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers do not immediately conjure up images of diplomacy in action. So it's fair to ask why the Secretary of State is interested in wildlife and convening this high-level meeting. The answer is multifaceted and has broad foreign policy implications.

The U.S. Department of State has a long and proud history in supporting wildlife conservation. In 1916, then-Secretary of State Robert Lansing signed with his British counterpart (representing Canada) a treaty to protect birds that migrate between the United States and Canada. Since then, many such treaties have been adopted with the understanding that the United States and other nations have a collective responsibility to protect our planet's wildlife. American bald eagles, Siberian tigers, Asian black bears, African elephants, and other animals are part of the fabric and history of cultures and countries throughout the world. These magnificent creatures are an essential and rich part of our shared patrimony that transcends national borders.

Secretary Clinton's passion and dedication has reinforced the fact that wildlife conservation and trafficking are global issues that merit global action. For me, protecting wildlife is a very personal issue. I spent a year in Kenya and Tanzania as a graduate student, where I experienced the spectacular beauty of wild animals in magnificent national parks such as Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. That's why I'm deeply disturbed by the horrendous pace, scale, and violence associated with wildlife crime.

Vastly increased firepower and ruthless tactics on the part of poachers jeopardize security, stability, and rule of law in countries across the globe. In Cameroon, for example, recent cross-border incursions by foreign poachers -- and the resulting massive slaughters -- pose a serious threat to peace and security in the region. Moreover, because wildlife trafficking is highly profitable -- worth billions of dollars each year -- there is a growing link to transnational organized crime. These trafficking syndicates bribe officials to circumvent national laws, rouse mayhem in local communities, and threaten (and sometimes kill) park rangers and other citizens. In Africa, upwards of a hundred park rangers are killed in the line of duty every year by poachers. In some cases, proceeds from the sale of elephant tusks, rhino horns, and tiger skins are used to pay for drugs, weapons, and bribes, creating a vicious cycle of havoc that can lead fragile states into further instability. The implications stemming from the illicit wildlife trade -- in addition to the trade itself -- are therefore of profound concern to the United States and millions of Americans.

Beyond moral and environmental implications, large scale poaching threatens the livelihoods and economic growth opportunities of local communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. During a recent visit to Namibia, I met with leaders of the King Nehale Conservancy -- bordering on the magnificent Etosha National Park -- to learn about how their conservancy supports eco-tourism, protects indigenous wildlife, and benefits local community members. There are more than 75 conservancies in Namibia, which collectively earn over $7 million annually from eco-tourism revenue. Namibia's wildlife gives community members direct financial benefits that can then be used for schools, medical facilities, water treatment, and other development essentials. Communities across the globe have attracted travelers wanting to connect with nature. Wildlife poaching and trafficking severely damage, or in some cases effectively end, opportunities for eco-tourism.

We collectively share a moral and political responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and support the development and security of countries suffering from wildlife trafficking. That's why wildlife conservation and anti-trafficking are foreign policy priorities for the Department of State. Our governments and citizens cannot afford to stand idle while poachers and wildlife traffickers hunt elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears, or any threatened species to extinction.

We need to show collective outrage against wildlife crimes to galvanize bold, comprehensive, worldwide action. None of us is doing enough. Secretary Clinton's meeting today is a call to action to work harder, and to work together. We can put an end to wildlife crime by supporting the efforts of governments whose animals and rangers fall victim to poachers; strengthening and enforcing laws against poaching and wildlife trafficking; and educating our citizens about the horrors of poaching and encouraging them to stop buying ivory, rhino horns, animal skins, exotic birds, and other endangered animals and their products. Anything less than such a bold and comprehensive effort will result in further decimation of nature's magnificent legacy to our planet. That would be the world's loss and our generation's shame.

Related Content: Fact Sheet on U.S. Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking and Promote Conservation | Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation -- A Call to ActionEditor's Notes: The photograph accompanying this entry shows Under Secretary Hormats with members of a wildlife conservancy in Namibia. This entry also appears on The Huffington Post.



Ohio, USA
November 9, 2012

Maggie in Ohio writes:

Excellent article, both for pointing out the various issues associated with wildlife crime and for showing the important ways that State is working for us across boundaries and around the world. Thank you!

Wanda R.
South Carolina, USA
November 9, 2012

Wanda R. in South Carolina writes:

A very special thanks to Hillary Clinton for her stance on illegal wildlife trafficking and animal conservation. She is such a strong and powerful woman and is such a class act. The best Secretary of State that we have had!

Mandy R.
United Kingdom
November 9, 2012

Mandy R. in the United Kingdom writes:

I am so glad Hilary Clinton has a passion for protecting wildlife. I follow The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Lewa, and other Kenyan wildlife trusts. I saw a horrific picture of two female elephants with their face hacked off. Obviously to get the tusks. There was a baby elephant involved and thankfully rescued and now in the good hands of the DSWF. I follow all the baby orphan stories. I get so frustrated at how little I can do as an individual, short of finances! Please do all you can to stop the killing of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns.

Paul U.
November 9, 2012

Paul U. in Kenya writes:

This is a heartwarming message from the US Secretary of State. We are heartened that in protecting the world heritage and national pride of wildlife, we have the support of the rest of the world. By protecting our wildlife, we are safeguarding our livelihoods and economies. Yet smugglers and poachers are using their proceeds to destabilize governments as well as finance drugs, human trafficking and laundering. The renewed focus is truly heartening.

Russel B.
November 13, 2012

Russel B. in Canada writes:

Kudos to Hillary Clinton and the US State Department! Manatees,polar bears,sharks,tigers,elephants,et al. don't vote but educated and aware voters do. Leaders and governments that stop wildlife trafficking will earn the respect and gratitude of the whole world.

United States
November 13, 2012

Leslie in the U.S.A. writes:

Thank God Secretary Clinton is bringing the importance of getting rid of animal poaching! We should have very strong life changing penalties. Eye for eye on ivory poachers!

Arega M.
November 13, 2012

Arega M. in Ethiopia writes:

Thanks for sharing the link. This is really intolerable for all wildlife custodians all over Africa. The overall situation calls for a cooperative action of all nations who are affected by such crime.

Zelalem M.
November 16, 2012

Zelalem M. in Ethiopia writes:

Thank you sharing the link. Our world have to turn to conserve the wildlife resources."If we lose this resource we lose everything!!"

Under Secretary Hormats With Members of a Wildlife Conservancy in Namibia
November 8, 2012


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