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DeFazio Statement on the National Security Challenges of Poaching and Terrorism before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

Apr 22, 2015
Press Release

Thank you, Chairman.

Demand for ivory and rhino horn in much of East Asia, particularly China, has skyrocketed in recent years, increasing the price of ivory from less than $5 per pound to as much as $1,500 per pound.  South Africa is now experiencing their highest poaching numbers in decades. Over 100,000 African elephants were killed between the years 2010-2012, resulting in a population decline of 64%. Last year alone, more than 20,000 African elephants and over 1,200 rhinos were killed. 

Elephants are currently being killed faster than they can reproduce and three out of the five remaining rhinoceros species are critically endangered. There are only 4,800 black rhinos, 35 Javan rhinos, and only one male northern white rhino left in the entire world. It is truly sobering. Without drastic action soon, we will witness the destruction of these species.

In addition to nearly wiping out an entire species, a very troubling aspect of the poaching and trafficking epidemic is the link to global terrorism. Numerous reports – including one to the United Nations Security Council – have shown that poaching has become increasingly systematic and militarized, often to the direct benefit of terrorist groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Janjaweed in Darfur, and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. Al-Shabaab, responsible for two recent attacks in Kenya that have left more than 100 people dead, derives 40% of its funding from illegal ivory.

African countries are trying desperately to protect their remaining elephant and rhino populations, but park rangers and other law enforcement officials are outmanned and outgunned. Today’s poachers use automatic weapons, night vision goggles, and even helicopters in pursuit of their prey, making stopping them on the ground extremely difficult. While we need to continue to provide counter-poaching assistance, that will not be enough. Ivory and rhino horn traffickers are organized and sophisticated criminal syndicates that are often well connected in government and business circles. Ivory is part of a multi-billion dollar trade in illegal wildlife, brought to you by the same people who deal in drugs, guns, and people. The time has come to hold accountable those countries that facilitate poaching, turn a blind eye to ivory being trafficked through their ports, and fail to crack down on illegal trade within their borders.

To that end, today I reintroduced legislation, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants and Rhinoceroses Act. The TUSKER Act will force countries that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has identified as significant source, transit, or destination points for illegal ivory and rhino horn to immediately enter into consultations with the United States to put an end to trafficking. If any country fails, it will face trade sanctions under the Pelly Amendment, which will be far more economically damaging than loss of the illegal ivory racket. In 2013, CITES identified eight countries – including China, Thailand, and Vietnam – as instrumental to the global market for illegal ivory. The TUSKER Act will ensure that these countries, and any others identified as problematic in the future, become allies in the fight to save elephants and rhinos and fight organized crime and terrorism.

I look forward to working with my colleagues, including some members of this committee, to ensure that the United States uses every tool necessary in combating the trade in illegal ivory and rhino horn. Thank you again for holding this hearing and for allowing me to share my perspective on this critical issue.