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

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“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.

Obama kicked off his initiative in Tanzania Monday with the announcement of a $10 million program to provide training and technical assistance to sub-Saharan African countries that are finding their anti-poaching efforts are no match for the well-funded and heavily armed traffickers.

The new task force is supposed to deliver a national strategy for tackling wildlife trafficking and aiding countries, particularly in Africa, in their anti-poaching efforts, by the end of the year.

Obama used the backdrop of Tanzania and his three-nation Africa tour to announce his initiative because he said the threatened loss of the continent’s iconic wildlife to poaching also threatens Africa’s “identity and prosperity.”

In other words, the new initiative, though it has “wildlife” in its name, is really about people, some private-sector advocates involved in the plan say.

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