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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 This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Using Cutting Edge Science to Fight Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade

World Wildlife Day
World Wildlife Day is taking on trafficking and wildlife crime.

Today is World Wildlife Day, a day set aside to celebrate the incredible diversity of wildlife found across the globe – and to raise awareness of the threats many of these species face from poaching and wildlife trafficking. To mark this day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spotlighting a crucial ally in the fight to protect the world’s wildlife and crack down on wildlife crime: The National Wildlife Forensics Lab.

You probably haven’t heard of this lab, tucked away at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the small town of Ashland, Oregon. But the lab and its forensic experts are world-renowned for their work to identify the perpetrators of wildlife crime and help law enforcement agencies bring them to justice.

Our Wildlife Forensics Laboratory takes your questions live.

Today, you have a rare opportunity to learn about the Forensics Lab and how it has become a vital part of the global fight against poaching and wildlife trafficking. We’re hosting a LiveStream broadcast from the lab at 1 pm EST, giving you a glimpse into how the lab operates and making our forensic scientists available to answer your questions.

Using cutting-edge forensics and DNA analysis, the lab has provided crucial evidence in hundreds of criminal investigations involving some of the world’s most endangered and beloved wildlife species. It is the only such lab in the world, one that has pioneered forensic analysis of wildlife crime.

The scientific capacity provided by the Forensics Lab has never been more important- because many of the world’s wildlife species are under siege.

Since the colonial era, rhinos have gone extinct in 15 African countries. Last year, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed for their horns by poachers in South Africa alone – exceeding the number killed in 2013 by a staggering 21 percent. At this rate, more than three rhinos were killed per day. We are losing one rhino to poaching every 7.2 hours. Across Central Africa, the total population of forest elephants declined by 62 percent between 2002-2011. In 2012, elephant poaching levels reached the highest level recorded since international monitors began keeping detailed records in 2002.  Approximately 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012 for their ivory, and the continent-wide estimate for all elephants was revised downward to 420,000. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed annually, often targeted solely to obtain their fins for shark-fin soup.

These iconic species, and hundreds of others across the globe, may vanish from the wild in our lifetimes if we don’t halt the current slaughter. That’s why it’s essential to understand where poachers and traffickers are operating and to link them to their crimes.

We’ve mounted multiple successful law enforcement operations in recent years. Among the most significant is Operation Crash, an ongoing undercover Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into rhino poaching and trafficking.

To date, 22 individuals have been arrested and charged as part of this investigation, with offenses ranging from conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering; to tax evasion, bribery and making false documents; as well as violations of wildlife laws.

Our agents have seized dozens of rhino horns – and millions of dollars in cash, cars, gold and jewels.

These arrests and those from other ongoing investigations have exposed the extent of the United States’ connection to the poaching and trafficking crisis – and underscored our responsibility to act.

Just last summer, the owner of a Philadelphia African art store was sentenced to 30 months in prison, along with $550,000 in fines and forfeited assets, for smuggling more than one ton of African elephant ivory into the country. Also last year, the ringleader of an international rhino smuggling conspiracy was sentenced in New Jersey to 70 months in prison for trafficking more than $4.5 million in rhino horn and ivory.

These punishments are some of the stiffest ever levied for wildlife crimes, and set a precedent for future arrests and prosecutions.

The stakes are rising for criminals engaged in poaching and trafficking. We need to keep the pressure on.

In addition to aggressive law enforcement in the U.S., we will continue to build the capacity of range countries to protect and manage their wildlife.

We will continue working with the international community to ensure that legal trade in wildlife is sustainable.

And we will work with partners worldwide to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products by stigmatizing these items and educating consumers about the consequences of their purchases.

There is no silver bullet. But by working together to address this problem at both the supply and demand ends, we can sustain the world’s wildlife heritage for future generations.

I encourage you to tune in today at 1 pm EST / 10 am PST to learn more about the National Wildlife Forensics Lab, and our worldwide efforts to sustain native wildlife populations and to put an end to wildlife crime. For more information on the broadcast, visit http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2015/2/26/Got-Questions-for-Wildlife-Crime-Solvers




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