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- Operation Crash: Service Investigators Tackle Rhino Horn Trafficking
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Celebrating 40 Years of International Wildlife Conservation
Photo Credit: PicturesWild
A decade of change, the 1970s saw the breakup of the Beatles, the wind-down of the Vietnam War, and the growth in women's rights. This point in history also brought an unprecedented surge of environmentalism. The science of ecology continued to mature, building recognition of the profound impact changes in land-use and the deterioration of our environment had on people and wildlife alike. A groundswell of public awareness of environmental problems and support for wildlife conservation spurred political activism. Passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 addressed polluted skies and waterways. Comprehensive wildlife conservation laws were soon to follow.
One of the greatest threats to the survival of some of the world's most charismatic species was the incredible amount of international trade in products derived from them. The problem stemmed from the ever-increasing demand for wildlife parts. Specifically the demand for ivory in Europe and the U.S. soared in the '70s, with little regard for its impact on the long-term survival of species. Killing of elephants for their ivory rose to levels not seen since the start of the century—eliminating nearly half of Africa's total elephant population. Poaching of Africa's rhinos for their horns escalated, as it did with tortoises for their shells, and tigers for their pelts. And advanced technology had made it possible – and effortless – to ship wildlife to nearly anywhere in the world.
With poaching and trafficking nearing crisis levels, society and its Congress called for action—a commitment to protect the wild fauna and flora, in their many beautiful and varied forms, for generations to come. Growing concern over the unprecedented international decline of wildlife led to the drafting of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in March 1973. CITES, as it is more commonly known, remains the only global treaty to protect wildlife and plants against over-exploitation. The U.S. was the first country to ratify the Convention—its signatory list now totals 177.
Photo Credit: Gary M. Stolz, USFWS
To implement CITES, all members must develop wildlife protection laws in their countries and establish a Management Authority to issue trade permits for wildlife products, as well as a Scientific Authority to provide scientific expertise on the status of species considered for trade. For the U.S., those who were involved in negotiating CITES were also involved in developing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which combined and strengthened its predecessors – the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 and Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 – that offered minimal protection measures for habitat and foreign species. This new act was needed to not only address domestic wildlife issues, but to put teeth into CITES and fulfill the nation's promise to regulate domestic and international movement of endangered species and their parts. By regulating activities, the U.S. ensures that people under its jurisdiction do not contribute to the further decline of endangered species at home and beyond. The ESA also generates conservation benefits by supporting CITES programs and research efforts to address conservation needs while increasing awareness of species facing extinction.
On this, the ruby anniversary year, both the ESA and CITES have made significant progress in conserving international wildlife. Once nearly driven to extinction by demand for their skins, crocodilians of South American swamps are now on the road to recovery, and trade is occurring at well-managed and controlled levels. A coordinated nationwide investigation into rhino horn smuggling syndicates aims to cripple the black market rhino horn trade to help the last remaining rhino populations recover. This edition of the Endangered Species Bulletin highlights just a few of the remarkable successes these complementary conservation powerhouses have delivered.
While the ESA and CITES have been successful in eliminating some of the major ivory, rhino horn, and fur markets, challenges to international wildlife conservation remain. There is still an appetite for exotic goods including ivory, pelts, traditional medicines, and wild meats in many parts of the world. And as many countries continue to grow and develop, species will be pushed farther out of their habitats, increasing the potential for more frequent human-wildlife conflicts. In the face of these challenges, a world without an ESA or CITES is truly inconceivable.
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