1:00 P.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Let’s get started. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Mike Chadwick from the Foreign Press Center. I’d like to welcome you all to our roundtable briefing this afternoon on combating wildlife trafficking.
We have with us today three representatives of different agencies here who are co-chairing the President’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking. And we’re happy to have them. And rather my introducing them, I’ve passed out their bios. If you didn’t get that, I’ll hand it to you later. And let’s go ahead and ask them to make some quick opening remarks and then we’ll go on to your questions.
Since we’re the Foreign Press Center, we’re really here to support the foreign press, so we’re going to give you guys the first priority on asking questions, and then we’ll turn it over to our domestic media as well for any questions that you may have.
So let’s get started. I think Director Ashe, you are going first.
MR. ASHE: All right. Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here and I think – as I think about this issue of wildlife trafficking, I really think what we’re seeing is a window into the future. We have seven billion people in the world and asking more and more of the planet’s natural resources. By the middle of the century, we’ll have nine billion people in the world – and not just more people, we’ll have more affluent people. And I think that’s a phenomenon that we’re seeing here. With rising affluence throughout the world, there’s an increasing demand for wildlife products.
And so much as we have struggled with that issue here in the United States, we’re seeing increasingly as a struggle globally going on as we have growing populations and populations that are growing affluence. And we – in the course of the last year to two years, we have seen dramatic escalation in wildlife trafficking. And this is not the trafficking that we have seen in the past, which have been more opportunistic, locally driven. This is trafficking that seems to be very sophisticated, highly organized, syndicated trafficking. We – so we need really a multipronged effort to be successful here.
The first thing that we have to do is we have to stop the killing that we are seeing now in the range countries. And we can do that by targeted law enforcement and improved law enforcement capacity and by providing technical assistance and grants to building country capacities. And so stop the killing by law enforcement and technical assistance to build capacity.
We have to work to better enforce and ensure that trade in wildlife products is sustainable. And we can do that through things like the better efforts to implement the Convention on Trade – International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, and other mechanisms.
And we need to reduce demand for these illicit products. And we need to do that here at home, and we need to that in conjunction with our foreign partners in countries like China and Thailand and Vietnam and the countries where we’re seeing these large and growing demands for these products.
And we are taking an important step next week, where the U.S. will be destroying its stockpile of ivory at our National Wildlife Repository in Denver, Colorado. We’ll be crushing six tons of ivory, which we have confiscated over many years as a result of law enforcement efforts. And we’re doing that in the hopes of raising the profile of this issue and the attention that – of the issue, both domestically and internationally and also to try to inspire other nations around the world to deal with their stockpiles of ivory. We have to get ivory out of trade so that we can better identify and take enforcement actions against illicit trade.
So I’ll stop there and defer to answering questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Next we’ll go on to Assistant Attorney General Dreher.
MR. DREHER: Well, the Justice Department has long viewed wildlife trafficking as a serious crime. And the extent and nature of this criminal activity is becoming more and more clear. I mean, we’re seeing organized crime networks. We’re seeing some connections with international terrorism groups. The truth is, it’s highly lucrative at this point. It’s one of the most highly lucrative forms of international crime, and we pursue it with all of the tools that we ought to bring to this, to combating this serious international crime.
It has an enormous humanitarian and conservation perspective with the catastrophic losses of African wildlife and of other species that are trafficked. This is not just about elephants and rhinos, although those are the most visible. There are ocean and maritime species that are affected; there are species in the United States that are subject to illegal traffic.
And the United States is the second-largest consumer of illegally trafficked wildlife products. So we have a very strong responsibility in this country to take firm and vigorous steps to try to combat this illegal trade, and we are doing that at the Department of Justice. We have been engaged for some years in combating wildlife trafficking using laws like the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act to prosecute people who illegally bring wildlife products into the United States or trade in them in the United States.
We, for example, can announce today we just had a guilty plea given by Michael Slattery, Jr., an Irish national. He pled guilty today in federal court in Brooklyn to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking. He had – in his plea agreement, he admitted that he, along with others, had traveled throughout the United States to illegally purchase and sell endangered rhinoceros horn and represented in the course of that that he had the appropriate authority to do so knowing that he didn’t. He was arrested in September as part of Operation Crash, which is a nationwide, multiagency crackdown on those involved in the black market trade in endangered rhinoceros horn.
And I want to emphasize that the Department of Justice works very closely with its partners that investigate these crimes, prominently including, of course, the Fish and Wildlife Service and their investigative officers, but also including the Customs and Border Control, the Department of Homeland Security. With the State Department, we work very closely with our international allies to try to provide capacity building and training. We are committed to ending this illegal crime.
And I will stop there, but I will say one word, because I think that Dr. Jones is about to describe this, but the President, of course, has clearly demonstrated this country’s commitment to this with his executive order this summer that created – not only created a duty – imposed a duty on every federal agency to act within its authority to combat wildlife trafficking, but created a Wildlife Trafficking Taskforce of which our three agencies are the co-chairs, but there are 14 other federal agencies that are part of this taskforce. And the taskforce is charged with developing and implementing a strategy – a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, and there’s an important role being played by advisors to the government through a federal advisory committee, the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. That includes prominent conservationists and former government officials and other people with tremendous expertise in this area that will advise us. That strategy is scheduled to be completed shortly and will be released sometime in the coming year, I’m sure, by the President.
And the point of that is just to say that this is a committed effort by the United States. The Department of Justice is playing its role in furthering this effort, but it’s an effort by all of the agencies that are involved in the wildlife trafficking taskforce. I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Jones.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for coming. I think you’ve heard a bit about the problem and how all of the agencies are working together, but what Bob just mentioned is the fact that this has been put on the agenda by the President at this point, recognizing that wildlife trafficking, which has often been thought of as a conservation problem, biodiversity, maintaining very important species is also really a security problem, it’s a health problem, and it’s an economic problem, especially for the areas where this wildlife is being taken, because sometimes that’s a source of attracting tourists. And when there’s no wildlife, the tourists may not come. So it’s that simple. It’s a problem that has many different faces, and because of that, it requires an approach that really builds on a lot of partnerships.
The three of us sitting here today represent the partnership across the U.S. Government that the President has called for in his executive order, but there’s also the partnership around the world, because this is a global problem. It’s a problem of the supply countries, the transit countries, and the demand countries, because all of those countries see these illegal, illicit products moving through them. They’re taken from some countries, and they’re sold in other countries. So it’s a question of dealing with all of those different pieces of the problem.
So the State Department, because we are a foreign policy agency, works with our partners around the world, looking at this problem from all of its different dimensions. We have done a lot of work on the conservation side, we have done a lot of work in terms of enforcement and training for enforcement. We have also done a lot of work just diplomatically in such important forums as APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, where the leaders of that have called for action on wildlife trafficking. We have also raised this in the UN. There have been many activities in the UN bringing attention to this.
So we see this as an issue that needs a lot of attention, because it really is no longer just a conservation problem; it is also plugged into transnational organized crime in a way that is very significant. It generates between $7 to $10 billion a year, which makes it, as Bob said, a very lucrative undertaking. And so it’s something that requires a concerted effort across agencies and across countries. It requires a lot of program investments, and I know many countries invest in this. The U.S. also invests. We invest in conservation and training. We also are investing in an award that will look for help in addressing some of these transnational organized crime rings. So we are trying to have a very much multifaceted approach on this, because we recognize that we’ve been here before.
We’ve seen problems with the slaughter of elephants and other important species before, but it’s taken on a really much more sophisticated element to it, as Dan has mentioned, heavier weaponry, more organized, cross-border. So it does become a security issue. So I think you’ll see from – or hear from all of us we see this as a problem where we all have to work together, and we are working with partners around the world to make some advances. It’s very challenging. It’s a very challenging problem.
We work with the Agency for International Development, who has investments around the world trying to build programs in terms of conservation and how do you protect wildlife in a way that helps build economic opportunities in villages around the world. We’re looking at how do you reduce demand through different kinds of marketing approaches. So we see this a full-court press to really address and try to stop this very, very difficult problem. So let me stop there, because what’s important is to hear from you and answer some of your questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Okay. We’re going to go onto the question and answer. As I said, I’ll ask our foreign media first. Please do identify your name and your media outlet, if you don’t mind.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Siri Nyrop. I’m with the Voice of America, and I have a question about the U.S. part in the demand and that impact on the current crisis of poaching. I’m focused on reporting on elephants and ivory and rhino horn right now, and the U.S. picture is a little bit confusing in some part because there’s a description that demand has gone down, and yet we rank number two behind China in demand. I mean, how do you put – there’s been so much emphasis on the Africa or Southeast Asia axis – China axis, how where does the United States fit in there?
MR. ASHE: I think when Bob speaks of U.S. demand for wildlife products, it’s wildlife products in general. And so we are certainly a large consumer of wildlife products. The majority of that consumption is legal and sustainable trade that’s regulated under – legal under the Lacey Act, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and other mechanisms. So that’s sustainably-based trade, perfectly –
QUESTION: But just in ivory alone, still we’re –
MR. ASHE: In ivory, I mean, we do allow trade of ivory in the United States, and I think that is an issue for – that will be in front of the President’s taskforce for consideration, so what we’re trying to do is reach out to countries like China and Thailand which have historically very strong cultural, traditional ties to these products, and we’re asking them to take difficult steps to address the demand issue. I think that the U.S. has always led on these efforts through leadership itself. So when we take part in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, we come from an important point of leadership, because we have the world’s premiere law for endangered species protection and conservation. So likewise, I think that as part of the taskforce, we need to have and we will have discussion about the U.S. trade in ivory.
The other issue for the U.S. is the U.S. as a transit point, and as Bob mentioned in Operation Crash, I think we see another example there of where the U.S. is playing a role in facilitating this trafficking by providing a haven and a throughput for – and serving as a transit country between the range states and the demand states. And so that’s another issue where the U.S. has a large responsibility and a role to play.
QUESTION: But if I may follow up, it’s just – it’s a little bit confusing. I mean, I understand the finished goods versus raw ivory imports, but still, the attention is so focused on China and Thailand and other South Asian – Southeast Asian countries where the demand is described as voracious because of the new economic conditions. And in the United States, there doesn’t seem to be that demand, but there is a huge market.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s right. May I jump in here? I think what you’re noticing is that, yes, we are the second behind China. But when we are talking about this and – we recently had a meeting with China known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and in that meeting we had a special breakout group that discussed wildlife trafficking. And we want to deal with it because we’re a market as well. I think what we’re seeing is the growing strength of the economies in Southeast Asia are making them a much more noticeable market all of a sudden. And I think there have been a lot of incidents where products have been tracked to that market.
So that market is very much in the spotlight; there’s no doubt about it. And I think that’s what you are seeing. But we recognize that we are also a market country, and so all of us have to work together to try to bring demand down. But I think there’s just – it’s kind of a timing situation that’s catching the press, and there is a big demand in Asia right now. It’s – some of it is new because of the economic growth, but U.S. recognizes that we’re a market, and we have to deal with our own issues. We have very good laws, but we still are a market.
MR. ASHE: And the issue is against sustainability. For years, the U.S. – I mean, we have allowed trade in ivory products, and that trade has been legal trade. And so now, at this point in time, I think we have to ask ourselves the question again: Is it necessary to control or to further control the legal trade? Because that becomes a smokescreen for the illicit trade.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right.
MR. ASHE: And so I think that’s a very pregnant question for the U.S. to address in the context of the President’s taskforce.
MR. DREHER: I do think one of the charges for the taskforce is to consider ways to try to address the issue of consumer demand, and the underlying perception that these wildlife products are legitimate sources of value. And I think one of the key messages that I think the Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to convey in support of other countries that have done this is that by destroying our domestic stocks of ivory, we send a very clear signal that these illegally-traded products should not be perceived as items of value, that they’re destroying them – in order to make it really clear that we do not view them as items of value.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Deng.
QUESTION: Deng Xianlai with China Daily. And yes, China is the first, number one trafficking country, and we’re being accused of that. And I saw a recent report on SINA.com, which is one of the main web portals in China. There is a report accusing China domestic ivory trafficking. So can you just elaborate on the cooperation between U.S. and China on this issue? Because I think if these two countries can work together to tackle this issue, it’s a better future on this issue. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Yes. Well, I appreciate that question, and it is something that has been getting increasing visibility in our bilateral discussions. As I mentioned, in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, we had a separate working group on this to talk about how to go about looking at both supply countries and demand countries. We talked about issues of getting messages out to markets. We also are continuing that discussion and we’re looking forward to work with China in ways to take the momentum that we had from that working group discussion and take it forward to continue to address this. So bilaterally, we’re talking about this issue quite a bit.
We also have a memorandum of understanding with China to really work on illegal logging. And these two issues are often linked together because you’re really talking about the habitat where you find some of these wonderful animals. And so we’ve had that for several years, very positive discussions, and so we’re going to continue doing that as well.
Additionally, multilaterally, in forums such as APEC, we – China is very present there, and we certainly are talking as leaders, among the leaders, in keeping this on the agenda. And so I think we are – we have good discussions going with China. We are looking forward to them continuing. And we’re also looking forward to sort of really thinking about steps we can take that’ll make a difference.
The marketing piece, as Bob has said and Dan has said – reducing the demand is a big piece. And so how do you begin to change the value of these products in the mind of the market, of the purchasers? And I think there’s been a lot of work done in that – there’s been work done in – I know in Vietnam, in China, in other places. And I think we’re going to try to work together a lot on that.
So I agree with you that’s a very strong partnership. We need to strengthen it and to get more done.
MODERATOR: Do you have anything to add or --
MR. ASHE: I would say that I think we have taken some recent steps at the COP-16 for the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species in Bangkok, Thailand this past March. We offered some joint proposals with China and Vietnam on – these were on Asian turtle conservation and – but it was the first time that we had ever offered a joint proposal with China. And so I think that reflects a growing recognition that the U.S. and the Chinese, as two leading economic powers in the world, need to work together if we’re going to achieve conservation for these species. And the CITES COP also adopted measures asking for reporting of – on ivory and rhinoceros trade in these high-demand countries and transit countries. And so – and that was with the support of the Chinese and the Vietnamese.
So I think we have a growing recognition that this is a problem that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed through cooperation and through diplomacy between the two nations. So I think that --
QUESTION: Could you please specify the COP? What does it stand for?
MR. ASHE: Conference of the Parties, so it’s --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Conference of the Parties. So if you sign on to an agreement, you’re a party to that agreement.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: And so the U.S. and China have both signed onto CITES, the Convention on International Trade and Endangered and Threatened Species.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: I always think I’m going to forget one word in that --
MR. ASHE: One word in that --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: -- along the way. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Do we have any other questions from international media? Or if not, then we’ll – go ahead.
QUESTION: Yulia Romanova, Russian news agency TASS. You work closely with many countries, I know, and we all know this. And what do you say about Russia? Are there any other – any steps – joint steps, I mean – you – that could be taken?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, as you know, President Putin has been a very active champion for tigers, and he has really led – he, I think, hosted a tiger summit, if I remember correctly, a couple of years ago. And that has been an important effort to look at the range states where the tigers are and to really work to improve conservation, as well as stopping trafficking related to the slaughter of those animals.
We also worked with Russia very closely when they were chair of APEC a couple of years ago, and I think that was the first time that the leaders actually put this on the agenda as something that required a lot of political attention, because a lot of this is related to political will, because sometimes this is seen as a conservation issue off to the side. It’s not seen as an important issue. Although those of us who are big champions of conservation don’t quite understand that, but really, when Russia was leading APEC, they helped to really push this onto the agenda. So we continue to have a very strong partnership.
We also have a number of science activities, as well as other discussions about conservation with Russia underway, so we have a strong partnership.
MR. ASHE: Another area of great cooperation with Russia is in polar bear conservation.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s right.
MR. ASHE: And so – and a matter of fact, in Moscow at the beginning of December is the 40th meeting of the range states convention. So the five range states – the U.S., Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia – are meeting to discuss polar bear conservation. And Russia has been a leader in the conservation of polar bear and a leading voice in terms of controlling the illicit trade in polar bear because the leading cause of killing of polar bears in Russia is to feed illicit trade and is illegal harvest. And so Russia has been very interested in measures that we can take to prevent illegal trade in polar bear and to prohibit commercial trafficking in polar bear pelts.
MODERATOR: Great. Then I think I’ll throw it open to our American media as well. I see a question here first.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Maya. I’m from Time Magazine. I have a question about diminishing the value of ivory. You mentioned it briefly before, but I would just like you to expand on that, especially how it relates to the crushing of ivory. How much is that – how much will it cost to crush this six times, and how does that compare to perhaps flooding the market with ivory and – with legal ivory and donating those funds to conservation efforts or efforts such as that?
MR. DREHER: This is really Dan’s issue to talk about. The Fish and Wildlife Service is leading this.
MR. ASHE: Well, the value of ivory has escalated dramatically in the last several years, so – I mean, on a per-ounce of value, many times the value of gold at this point. So I think the – so the value – the escalation, the demand has been driving the increase in value, which makes it worth the risk. It’s not risk-free to kill elephants and illegally traffic in their ivory, but the value of the product is making the risk worth it for many of these criminals.
The cost to crush the ivory is negligible. I mean, where – the cost of the event itself is being supported by partner dollars, and so the cost of crushing the material is negligible. One of the things that we’ll be talking about next week is the crushed ivory – we’re working with the American Zoological Association and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to design – use that material to design memorials, which will then move to zoos and cities around the country and be used to help educate and build awareness about the plight that these animals are facing.
So the product from the crush will be used in a nonprofit context to build awareness. And the important aspect of that is a lot of that will be young people, and we need to ensure that young people are engaged and aware of the challenges facing the world that they’re preparing to inherit.
The idea of flooding the market has never been proven. In fact, when we have done one-off sales of ivory in the past, the evidence has been quite the opposite, that it stimulates demand. And so while there have been voices and proposals to essentially use all of this – these stockpiles to flood the market, I think the history tells us that what that does is it further stimulates demand and it provides, again, a bigger smokescreen for illicit trade.
MR. DREHER: I think that’s the real point here, is that the concerns about the continuation of the legal trade in ivory are that it has such a pernicious effect by allowing the masking of the illegally imported ivory products. It’s very difficult to tell whether – the age of ivory – it’s very difficult for us to demonstrate that someone is bringing in newly obtained ivory that was illegally obtained when they claim that it’s antique ivory and they’ve taken steps to make it – to give it the appearance of antique ivory. The more of this product that is – of these ivory products that is in commerce, the more difficult it is to actually unmask the people that are killing the elephants, killing the rhinoceros. And if what we want to do is do something about the catastrophic loss of wildlife and the illegal loss of wildlife, we have to find some way to be able to focus on the illegal traffic. So that’s the reason why flooding the market with more ivory that could claim to be legally in commerce would have a terrible effect on our law enforcement efforts.
MR. ASHE: And I think as – like – an event like this is so important, to have the attention of the media, because when we crush these ivory – this ivory, much of it is tusk and recognizable. Much of it is artwork. It’s beautiful. And so we’ll be destroying something of immense beauty.
But I think what people need to understand is, well, what’s more beautiful than an elephant in the wild? And it is the loss of that animal in the wild, that ivory cannot be harvested without the animal being killed. And so when you see that beautiful piece of artwork and extraordinary carving and artisanry that’s represented in that, what is behind that is a dead elephant. And that’s I think what we are dependent upon the media to help convey – that elephants aren’t like deer, they don’t drop their tusks and they don’t shed their tusk and you can pick them up off the tundra. To get that artwork, the elephant has to be dead.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Other questions? Emmarie.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Emmarie Huetteman from The New York Times. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about how you’re handling enforcement, considering that even members of some of the militaries in these African nations have been implicated in poaching, how are you going to handle law enforcement in a way that, when you have soldiers who are potentially involved in it, aren’t they supposed to doing the enforcement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, I think your question gets at one of the big challenges, which is corruption and governance issues. And I think the way you address that is, first, by developing very strong partnerships with countries around the world; second, by training and capacity building; and then, making sure that in addition to the understanding about capacity building and enforcement, that you also have judicial systems that work.
So the issue of corruption is not – it’s unfortunate, but it’s not unique to this issue. And so it’s something that has to just be addressed and taken on wherever it’s seen, and you constantly work to sort of get rid of it through training and through good governance and good judicial systems. We recognize that that’s out there, and we certainly all have read about it and seen different cases of it.
But there also are an awful lot of rangers who really work very hard to protect the wildlife around the world. And this is not only a loss of animal life, but many rangers are killed, and have been killed over the past few years. So there is corruption, but there’s an awful lot of people who are really trying to make a difference who are outgunned, and they don’t have the training that they need, and they don’t have the support that they need. So by building international partnerships and providing some of this technical assistance and capacity building, we think we can take on this issue.
Let me give you an example. In Tanzania, Fish and Wildlife Service and USAID and the State Department are going to be supporting one of the experts from the Fish and Wildlife to be at the Embassy in Tanzania to really build the partnership with the Tanzanian Government. So we think that’s very, very positive. We also have different law enforcement training sites around the world as well.
So your point is a good one. It’s really – we know it’s out there, but it’s one of those problems you have to take on in a head-on fashion and just constantly work it.
MR. ASHE: And to me, it underscores the importance of the President’s executive order, because we can’t tackle this issue like a traditional wildlife conservation issue as Dr. Jones said before. It’s – we have to see it as a national security issue, we have to see it as an economic issue, as a health issue. And so we have to deal with it on all of these different levels. And so we need the USAID, we need the U.S. Department of Defense, we need the Treasury Department, the Justice Department, because we have to attack this on many levels, and much of that depends on a diplomatic effort that will need to be long term.
QUESTION: But it’s a national industry in China – the ivory trade, that’s a national business.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, I think --
QUESTION: It’s not private industry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: I think there is legal and there is illegal. And I think the point that we were getting at, it’s hard to tell one from the other. And so I think many countries probably have some trade that is legal, and then that masks other things. It’s very hard to sort of say, it’s black and white. And I think that’s why an assessment of laws and situations in different countries – that’s why we have to have this engagement.
MR. DREHER: I want to come back to the point, I mean, these folks are not only heavily armed and very sophisticated, they – these are – these have become international syndicates.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right.
MR. DREHER: Many of the people that are involved in the illegal, violent trade are involved in other forms of illegal trafficking of humans, of drugs, of weapons. And for that very reason, that’s one of the things that has most caught the United States’ attention. It’s not – the depth of our commitment to the wildlife conservation issues involved is absolutely sincere, but it’s – these people are also a threat to international order. And they should be prosecuted with all the tools that we have for – to go after money laundering, to go after the – to trace the proceeds, and all the tools that we bring to other forms of serious international crime. And that’s part of what, I think, the President’s executive order demonstrates – says that we’re going to go after these folks with everything we’d bring to any other form of really serious international crime.
QUESTION: Thank you. Darryl Fears with the Washington Post. What do we know about the size of ivory stockpiles around the world, and what percentage does six tons represent in terms of sending a message to the rest of the world? And the very crushing of those six tons was delayed by a government shutdown --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s right.
QUESTION: -- and so in this political climate, what value does a Presidential Executive Order have sort of beyond his term, in terms of resources to fund antipoverty efforts and police actions? In effect, the sequestration diminished law enforcement or wildlife enforcement in your very – it lead to dismissal, or inability to replace inspectors and enforcement agents. And so it just seems like a daunting challenge in this climate.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: I’d be happy to take that on. I don’t know that I have a good answer.
QUESTION: Happy to take that on? (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: No, I don’t have a good answer. I think it’s because, being in the State Department, we work in the community of nations, and these are long-term problems. And we can’t sort of look at anything and just say, well, we have our own political situation at home, and we have our budget battles and everything else. Every country has that. And so we sometimes have to transcend our own national background noise a little bit and sort of work on problems that have – that need long-term attention. And this is a chronic problem. It needs long-term attention.
The U.S. has been working on this for a long time, from conservation channels and other ways that we have done it, and now we recognize we need a much broader approach. And yes, the ivory crush was delayed because of the shutdown of the government. A lot of things were affected, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t – as soon as you’re back at work, you don’t pick up and get the important things done, because we’re part of the world community and we are working with other countries to make a difference on this important problem.
So I think we recognize that – what’s happening in the U.S., but we also recognize that we have to continue to work on these chronic problems. Every time we have a problem at home, we sort of can’t back away from other things.
QUESTION: Can I slip in? Do we know how large the stockpile of ivory is around the world --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: I don’t have it.
QUESTION: -- and do you know how large a percentage our stockpile represents?
MR. ASHE: I don’t have that right here, Darryl. We might be able to get you that information. I would say that the six tons that we’re destroying is a drop in the bucket. So countries like Kenya and Thailand and China have stockpiles that are much, much larger than the U.S. But that’s not the importance. The importance is the signal that it sends, that the U.S. wants to be a leader and wants to bring this dialogue to the world nationally – or the world internationally and globally.
And I think that the issue you raise that certainly we’re all struggling with budget shortages and shortfalls – but I think that like a family that is going through a difficult budget time, what that requires you do is you pull together. And I think that’s what you’re seeing here, is the President is asking his government to pull together and work together on this issue. And as to the lasting nature of it, I would say this issue is probably the best example of bipartisanship --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s right.
MR. ASHE: -- that I have seen in – certainly in recent history, that we have Republicans and Democrats who are aligned around this issue of wildlife trafficking and understand the severity of it, understand what it means for the future of the world, and that if we are going to have a world in the – if our children are going to inherit a world that has tigers and rhinos and elephants and great apes, then this is the time to deal with that issue. And so I believe there is a great bipartisan interest in this, and I think it will outlast any administration.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: And if I can add one thing, some other countries have destroyed their ivory piles. Gabon a year or so ago burned all their ivory. I believed the Philippines have crushed it. Some of it is --
QUESTION: Can you burn ivory?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Well, that’s what they did. They did burn it. I mean --
MR. DREHER: It’s very difficult to burn, which is why we’re crushing it. So it’s very – but some countries have burned their ivory, but --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: I mean, and in some cases they do it to get rid of it because the security for keeping it is very difficult, but I think it’s a step for us to show that we are sincere about this effort and to show leadership. So others have done it and we’re going to do it. We’re hoping other countries will do it as well.
MODERATOR: I think we only have time for one or two more, but --
QUESTION: I was wondering, what is --
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, can you identify?
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Emily Yehle from Greenwire. I was wondering what the Fish and Wildlife Service can do internationally. Obviously, you have Operation Crash here domestically where you catch people who are trafficking here, but are – is your – do you have primarily a training role abroad, or what is --
MR. ASHE: No, we – I mean, we enforce laws here and internationally. And so our authorities are domestic, our work is global. So Operation Crash – the individual Mike Slattery, that the Justice Department has prosecuted, is an Irish national. And so we work with our colleagues across the globe in enforcing these laws, and we follow the trade wherever it goes. And so that’s why the example that Kerri-Ann mentioned, we are working with the State Department and USAID to place expertise into the range states, the transit states, and the demand states. And so as we look into the future, we’re going to see both scientific expertise and law enforcement expertise in places like Bangkok and Beijing and places like that. And so it’s with the support of the State Department and AID that – making that possible.
QUESTION: And so those are people from the Fish and Wildlife Service offering that support.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right.
MR. ASHE: Right. And with law enforcement, with something like law enforcement, it’s critically important because so much of that is trust, is knowing who can I share information with. And so having the people in places like Bangkok to establish those relationships, the trust-based relationships that are necessary to share information and prosecute many of these crimes, that’s going to be a key step for us.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one quick --
MODERATOR: Sure. We’ll make this the last question.
QUESTION: -- last question about demand, because we have an international audience at VOA and fingers are being pointed to China and the Southeast Asian countries. And I just want to get back to the point of American demand. How do you explain – was there a – how do you explain that the demand is so high when this is a population that has been environmentally aware? And it was a large drop in the popularity of ivory when people became more aware of – but where is – how do we point the finger when we still have a huge problem – or is that unfair?
MR. ASHE: Well, I guess I would say the problem is in the contemporary context. And so for decades, we had legal trade that was entire sustainable, and so we had countries like South Africa and Kenya and Namibia, who are responsibly managing their elephant herds, and so you had a trade that was regulated under (inaudible) and was sustainable. But what we have seen in these last several years is just this huge escalation in demand. It --
QUESTION: So that escalation in the region that is the main culprit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: That’s right.
MR. ASHE: Right. Yeah. So we – and so what we’re seeing now is illicit trade. And so before we were dealing with legal, sustainable trade. Now we’re dealing with large-scale, organized, illicit trade. And so the – but the U.S. demand has to be, I think, viewed in that context today. So today is different than two years ago and five years ago. And so I think we have to look at --
QUESTION: It’s increased, the demand?
MR. ASHE: Not necessarily that it’s increased, but is that legal trade, again, part of a kind of larger problem of masking of –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right.
MR. ASHE: -- illegal trade? And so I think we have to look at our consumption in the U.S. in light of the current challenge.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: But also, we focus a lot on ivory and elephants and rhino I think because it’s been – there’s been such an escalation. But there are other animals and creatures that are involved. So there are marine issues. There’s the issue of --
MR. DREHER: For example, Japan’s capturing of whales.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: -- the finning of sharks, okay, which is an example where there has been an effort to reduce demand that has made a difference. There has been trafficking of birds and reptiles, sometimes from South America into the U.S. So while we focus a lot because of the crisis sense we have right now around elephants and rhinos because of the recent steep increase, the market has a lot of products in it. And we are going to be looking at all of those as we look at this national strategy because all of it is about endangering these animals.
But it also is linked to the organized crime piece. So it’s – ivory is very much in the spotlight, but there are lots of other products that are involved here. There are lots of other countries. And so we’re trying to look at this from a big picture because you have to get all the pieces of this problem. And sometimes the U.S. market – well, there has been a market for ivory, but there’s also been a market for reptiles, I think, that has been a big one, and birds.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: And so I think you have to sort of look at the big picture. And I think everyone is trying to avoid a – the finger-pointing approach on this and say, okay, we have to come to this and recognize we all own a piece of this problem, so we all should own a piece of the solution, so we have to work together on this. It’s very challenging. People are – countries are in different places on this, and certainly in Africa, when you look at how much a rhino horn or an ivory tusk can get to a country where the economy may be very, very slow, that’s huge. I think the Kenyan ambassador once told me that for an ivory tusk, it’s like multiple times of an annual salary for a ranger. And so you’re looking at that. And then where you have a strong economy in East Asia, these are products that have a culturaly high value, so you have to try to turn that around and say these aren’t of high value, these are killing animals.
So I think that’s – it has to be a joint effort on this because it’s a joint problem.
MR. ASHE: If I could end by going back to Darryl, your point about optimism, because I think that in the area of environmental protection and conservation, it’s easy to be pessimistic and you look at – into a future that has – going from 7 billion to 9 billion people. But I think that the – but we have to be optimistic, and I think we can be optimistic because what’s made a difference in the past is U.S. leadership. And with the President’s Executive Order and the cooperation of the entire U.S. Government, we’re seeing U.S. leadership on an issue and we see partner nations like China and others responding and joining in that effort at leadership. And so that’s what, I think, is – provides room for optimism on this.
MODERATOR: And that seems like a perfect place to wrap up --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Right. An optimistic end.
MODERATOR: -- and say thank you very much for coming, and thank you all for –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JONES: Sure.
MODERATOR: -- being here.