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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Fighting for Elephants

"The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?"  -- David Attenborough 

Today, we find ourselves amidst a sudden and vicious epidemic of wildlife slaughter and illegal trade.  We are receiving reports of a potentially catastrophic slaughter of forest elephants in the Central African Republic as that nation has spiraled into chaos.

Black market trade in ivory drives elephant poaching. Credit: Gary M. Stoltz/USFWS

First, we heard 30 elephants were killed. Then it was 40. Now it is more than 80, and the death toll will likely climb.  Definitive numbers are hard to come by, but it is clear that the world-renowned national park, Dzanga-Ndoki, and its large elephant population is now in harm’s way.


Keeping Rhinos Alive by Watching What Antiques You Buy

Black rhinoRhinos have been decimated by poaching. Credit: USFWS

 People don’t often think about it, but even sales of antiques made from endangered plants or animals can hurt the survival of those species.  Antiques can raise demand for similar products, which really just feeds the destruction of those animals.

A global black market hungers for rhino horn – an NBC report last year estimated the value of rhino horns at $25,000 a pound. They are used in Asian medicines on the misguided notion that they cure diseases, even cancer … of course, no scientific evidence supports that they really do any of that. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same stuff that makes up hair and fingernails. They are also a sought-after carving material for ceremonial dagger handles and libation cups.

Poaching numbers for rhino jump every day, it seems. Wildlife authorities reported a rhino “death toll” of 668 for South Africa alone in 2012, a level of illegal take that translates roughly into a rhino being killed every 12 or so hours. This year, it’s even worse. As of April 3, 203 rhinos have already been poached in South Africa in 2013.

That is why I taped a segment on Antiques Roadshow talking about the rhino crisis. You can watch it online. You can also see a bonus interview I did.


CITES: Fighting Illegal Wildlife Trade, Ensuring Sustainable Legal Trade

CoP logo

I am in Bangkok, Thailand, this week for the 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP16) for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, which started Sunday. CITES is an international treaty on wildlife trade that helps ensure that trade does not threaten species’ survival in the wild.

CITES was signed by 21 nations in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1973. Later that same year – on December 28 – the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became law.

Both are celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year, and the world’s wildlife has been the big beneficiary.

Forty years after its signing, CITES has 178 member nations working to protect more than 34,000 species of plants and animals. Astonishing!

The ESA helps us implement CITES here at home. And thanks to the ESA, and citizens who believe in global conservation, the United States has been, and continues to be, a world leader in species and ecosystem conservation. 

CoP16 will be no different.


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