Near the end of his eight-day trip to Africa, President Obama announced Monday a new task force aimed at combating wildlife trafficking and the provision of $10 million in State Department aid for training security to combat the issue.
Obama issued an executive order creating the task force, which will bring together representatives from various government departments to discuss best practices in reducing the amount of poaching world-wide. He spoke about the issue at a joint press conference with the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete: “Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife,” Obama said. “The entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”
Aside from the conservation concerns, poaching is a major human rights issue in the region. An Enough Project report from June found that Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has begun poaching ivory from elephant tusks to fund the group’s activities, which include abducting children and forcing them into sex slavery:
The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, is now using elephant poaching as a means to sustain itself. LRA leader Joseph Kony — wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity — has ordered his fighters to bring him elephant tusks. Eyewitnesses report that the LRA trades tusks for much-needed resources such as food, weapons and ammunition, and other supplies.
With prices at record-high levels, trading illegal ivory offers the LRA another way to sustain itself in addition to its habitual pillaging. Former senior fighters who defected from the group report that the LRA trades ivory for arms, ammunition, and food. Former captives said that they saw LRA groups in the DRC and the Central African Republic, or CAR, trade ivory with unidentified people who arrive in helicopters.
And the poaching problem is getting worse: The number of African elephants killed illegally in 2012 was the highest in 20 years. The hunting of rhinos for their keratin horns has also skyrocketed, even as subspecies continue to die off as the western black rhino did in 2011. In February, Robert Hormats, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, said ivory had become a “conflict resource” and that the U.S. government viewed poaching as a national security issue.
Organizations have turned to new technology in their efforts to combat poaching. Backed by a $5 million grant from Google, the World Wildlife Fund is beginning to utilize unmanned drones. But as the New York Times reported last year, growing demand from China, record-high prices for poached materials, and an increase in poaching by members of security services assigned to fight the issue have only made the flow of ivory more difficult to quench.