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Wildlife trafficking: US initiative in Africa 'really about people' (+video)

The US wildlife initiative to stop poaching of elephants and other animals aims to address each level of an expanding illegal global market that is rivaling the global narcotics, arms, and human trafficking markets.

Rising toll of elephant poaching in Africa
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With the African elephant at risk of being slaughtered to the point of extinction, and with the trafficking of wildlife soaring to meet the exploding global demand for animal parts, the US and nongovernmental groups are teaming up with African and Asian countries to fight back.

A day after President Obama signed an executive order in Tanzania creating a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, officials from key US agencies including the Interior, State, and Justice departments met at the White House Tuesday to begin mapping out the presidential initiative.

Officials and leaders of several international organizations focused on wildlife preservation echoed Mr. Obama’s sense of urgency in announcing his initiative, insisting there is no time to waste.

“The numbers we are seeing are truly staggering” in terms of the animals killed and animal parts being trafficked, says David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior, who participated in Tuesday’s White House meeting. “It’s truly possible we could lose the African elephant from the face of this Earth within a decade.”

Last year an estimated 30,000 elephants were killed for their tusks, many of them falling to poachers armed with high-powered rifles and chain saws and sent out by crime gangs trafficking in ivory, rhino horn, tiger paws, and other animal parts. The slaughter of elephants has left only about 400,000 African elephants in the wild, experts say.

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