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As Secretary Jewell Visits Vietnam and China, EIA Urges Action for Rhinos and Elephants

By Danielle Grabiel, EIA Senior Policy Analyst and Amy Zets, EIA Endangered Species Policy Analyst

This week, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell travels to China and Vietnam, the world’s leading consumer markets for elephant ivory and rhino horn. Wildlife trafficking is high on the Secretary’s trip agenda, and indeed the U.S. agenda in general. On June 19th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed a ton of seized illegal ivory in New York’s Times Square, and last week top officials from the United States and China focused on combating wildlife trafficking at the annual Strategic & Economic Dialogue. Given the crisis at hand and the very real threat of losing some of the world’s most precious wildlife species, the high-level attention is justified and very much needed.

Vietnam and China are both important destinations for poached rhino horn. More than 1,400 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2014, and while South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs has stopped regularly releasing updated numbers this year, official comments indicate that the scale in 2015 is higher, by at least 18 percent in the first four months of the year.

Elephants are killed by the tens of thousands annually, all to make high-priced, status-symbol trinkets, predominantly for Chinese consumers. A Mozambique government and Wildlife Conservation Society survey recently revealed that in the past five years, 48 percent of Mozambique’s elephants have been poached, leaving the total population at around 10,000, down from 20,000. In the same week, the Government of Tanzania announced that more than 60 percent of its elephants have been wiped out in the same timeframe—merely 43,300 remain from 2009’s population of 109,000. Between 2002 and 2013, 65 percent of Central Africa’s forest elephants were poached. A new published study identified that in recent years, most seized African elephant ivory has come from two hotspots—Central and East Africa—paralleling these population drops.

One year ago this week, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) submitted a petition under the U.S. Pelly Amendment to certify Mozambique as undermining the effectiveness of an international conservation agreement, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora (CITES), for its role in rhino and elephant poaching. Unfortunately, little has changed in the past year and, if anything, the situation has further deteriorated. (EIA and partners also submitted a petition to the U.S. government in December 2012, requesting sanctions against Vietnam for its role in the illegal rhino horn trade). We understand both petitions are under active review.

While meeting with government officials to discuss efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking and cooperate, EIA encourages Secretary Jewell to focus on meaningful actions to reduce demand, eliminate legal markets which are used to launder illegal wildlife products, and increase enforcement efforts. We also urge the Secretary to consider our petitions and what the United States can do to help bring desperately needed relief to Africa’s remaining rhinos and elephants.

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