Thank you for joining us at the conclusion of what has been a series of very informative meetings here in Kasane. We deeply appreciate the hospitality of our friends in government, in civil society, and in the local communities. We saw first-hand how you are managing the significant challenges of living in close proximity to wildlife and how you are working together to cooperate against those who would seek to enrich themselves with your natural resources.
These are criminal organizations that would gladly seek to deprive your children of their natural endowment for a few coins – an endowment that has the potential to reward them and their communities many times over if properly managed.
We came to Kasane to signal our continued commitment to combating wildlife trafficking, to learn about the current situation here, and to acknowledge the efforts of the Government of Botswana to manage the challenges.
The large numbers of wildlife (especially elephants) pose unique challenges for forest managers and we would like to applaud the steps the Government of Botswana has taken to conserve the species by working closely with researchers to understand animal behavior and then seeking policy solutions to reduce conflict and enhance coexistence.
Wildlife trafficking is an urgent threat to many species and undermines security and economic development. The United States government is committed to combating wildlife trafficking, and works closely with a wide range of public and private partners to strengthen enforcement, reduce the demand for illegal wildlife and wildlife products, and expand international cooperation.
During the last year, the U.S. government and its partners made progress both at home and abroad to protect our planet’s wildlife and dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that profit from this illegal trade.
Inside my country, these efforts are coordinated through the interagency Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, which is co-chaired by the Department of State, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Justice, and brings together 17 government departments and agencies for a whole-of-government approach to combating wildlife trafficking.
The U.S. effort relies on three primary tasks: strengthening enforcement, reducing demand, and expanding international cooperation. I would like to take a moment to highlight this last point – international cooperation.
The U.S. has committed significant resources for cooperation in this area and continues to expand our partnership. You will see the details of this support in the available press release, but so far this year we have awarded over $48 million of an expected $64 million in projects to run for the next five years. These efforts prioritize increased community benefits from wildlife, increased collaboration between communities and enforcement, improved understanding of wildlife crime dynamics, and increased information sharing among participating countries.
We also invest substantially in training, partnering, and enforcement cooperation. Examples include hosting the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Law Enforcement Attaché in Botswana, bringing together conservation chiefs in the U.S., increasing the capacity of prosecutors on wildlife crime cases, or providing millions of dollars in various other bilateral and multilateral efforts to work with our friends in the region to combat this transnational threat.
As you can see, the U.S. is serious, is investing large amounts of money in the region, and is eager to continue to expand our cooperation with Botswana and other partners, in the region and beyond.