Obama launches poaching crackdown

The White House is launching new initiatives to fight illegal trafficking of rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks and other products decimating Africa's native species. 

The new effort was announced during President Obama's trip to Tanzania, part of an eight-day, multi-nation tour through Africa. 

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Obama issued an executive order on Monday that sets up a task force to craft a national strategy to combat criminal trafficking and an outside advisory panel to inform the effort.

Obama touted the effort in a joint press conference Monday with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, where Obama called wildlife “inseparable from Africa’s identity and prosperity.”

“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.”

Grant Harris, the National Security Council’s senior director for Africa, said poaching of rhino horns and elephant tusks brings traffickers high prices on the black market, and that there’s $7 billion to $10 billion in illegal trade in the animals worldwide annually.

“It's decimating the populations of some of Africa's iconic animals,” he said, according to a pool report.

Horns sell on the black market for $30,000 per pound, Harris told reporters traveling with the president, making them “literally worth greater than their weight in gold.”

The State Department will provide $10 million for training and technical assistance to aide South Africa, Kenya and other nations, while the Interior Department will “enhance” regulations that address illegal trafficking, the White House said.

State's funding will help nations strengthen policies and laws and boost investigations and law enforcement, including cooperation on regional enforcement efforts, the White House said.

White House officials say the new initiatives will build on what have already been stepped-up law enforcement and conservation efforts through the State Department, the Justice Department and other agencies.

“Like other forms of illicit trade, wildlife trafficking undermines security across nations. Well-armed, well-equipped, and well-organized networks of poachers, criminals, and corrupt officials exploit porous borders and weak institutions to profit from trading in illegally taken wildlife,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House said there will be new efforts under the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, which was created under a law signed in early 2013.

It enables the State Department to give rewards for information that helps identify and convict members of transnational criminal groups, and disrupt the groups’ financing.

The U.S. will use this new authority to “combat the most significant perpetrators of wildlife trafficking,” a White House summary states.

“We've also had a massive diplomatic campaign, including under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she was at the State Department, convening people at state and making this a big diplomatic part of our policy,” Harris said.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said illegal trafficking has been raised in high-level talks with Chinese officials. 
“A lot of these syndicates are based in China,” he said.

—This story was updated at 10:49 a.m.

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