Celebrities and the U.S. Government Come Together on World Environment Day to Support Combating Wildlife Trafficking

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Wildlife trafficking is wreaking havoc on particularly vulnerable animal populations across the globe, and stands as both a critical conservation concern and a threat to global security. The Crime Museum in Washington, DC is putting a spotlight on this critical issue, marking World Environment Day, June 5, 2015, by opening a new temporary exhibit titled “Ivory, Tortoise Shell, & Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking.”

Photo courtesy of Crime Museum

This is a real problem that impacts us all, even if we are not the ones making the product purchases, states Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer of the Crime Museum.

In February 2014, President Obama highlighted wildlife trafficking as a national security issue, noting that this crime is decimating iconic animal populations and undermines security across nations. Wildlife trafficking is wreaking havoc on particularly vulnerable animal populations across the globe, and stands as both a critical conservation concern and a threat to global security. There is a dire need for the public to understand the importance of not purchasing illegal wildlife and wildlife products, and the larger impact that consumers play in this vicious cycle. The only way to fully address this cross-cutting issue is to raise awareness among the demand markets, including the United States, which is a major market for both illegal and legal wildlife products.

“This is a real problem that impacts us all, even if we are not the ones making the product purchases,” states Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer of the Crime Museum. “We should all take an interest in ensuring these animals are not being treated cruelly and that we no longer diminish their populations.”

The Crime Museum in Washington, DC is putting a spotlight on this critical issue, marking World Environment Day, June 5, 2015, by opening a new temporary exhibit titled “Ivory, Tortoise Shell, & Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking.” The new exhibit aims to raise awareness among museum visitors about an often overlooked crime.

“This is an issue that we are taking seriously and are determined to address,” explains William R. Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. “The government is on board with the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking, but it’s also important that consumers get on board, too.”

Here are five important things to know about wildlife trafficking and how to address the problem:

1. It is estimated that in the last century we have lost 97 percent of the world’s tigers. In just the last 13 years there has been a 76 percent decline in the elephant population. In 2014 alone, there were over 1,200 rhinoceros killed in South Africa. Each of these animal populations are being severely depleted in large part due to illegal wildlife trafficking.

2. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative types of transnational organized crime in the world, with annual revenues conservatively estimated to be worth billions of dollars per year. With such a lucrative market, this has led many criminals to engage in this illicit activity, driven by high demand and high profits for illegal wildlife as well as a low risk of detection. The items illegally traded include tiger bone, elephant ivory, bear bile and fish bladders, rhinoceros horn, sea turtle shells, pangolins, and more.

3. Despite the conservation concerns, there are people who knowingly purchase such items, but there are also those consumers who buy the products unknowingly, thus further contributing to the issue. They may purchase wildlife products, such as tortoise shell hair clips or elephant ivory carvings, without any awareness of the impact it has on the poaching situation in local communities.

4. The U.S. government is taking a strong stand in the fight against wildlife trafficking, through the recently released Implementation Plan for the President’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The Plan includes such directives as strengthening domestic and global enforcement, reducing demand, and expanding international cooperation.

5. Buyers can play a role in helping to combat this global problem, starting with not purchasing any wildlife or wildlife products. When the demand for the products stops, so too will the number of animals being poached. Consumers can also learn about the issue, share that information with family and friends, and drive retailers to stop carrying illicit wildlife products.
Numerous celebrities have also weighed in on this important issue.

“More awareness about the process and consequences of illegal trafficking is the key to stopping the harming of innocent animals,” says Russell Simmons, an entertainment mogul. “Raising public awareness is the first step in stopping the purchase of jewelry made of ivory or tortoise shell or clothes made with real fur and helping these animals.”

In addition to the exhibit, a new documentary also sheds light on the trade.

“The worst thing we can do for our wildlife is to ignore the illegal trafficking that is going on every day,” says Katie Cleary, actress and producer who released a powerful award-winning documentary titled, "Give Me Shelter" on May 15th. This film was developed to raise awareness for some of the most important animal welfare issues world-wide. “The Ivory, Tortoise Shell, & Fur: The Ugly Truth of Wildlife Trafficking” exhibit at the Crime Museum is an instrumental resource to raise awareness and interest so we can make a real difference in these animals’ lives. It’s up to us to save them.”

Celebrity designers are also taking notice of this criminal activity. Those designers who have identified the connection between the materials used in the design of their products, and the impact it can have on wildlife poaching and trafficking are now at the forefront of making changes in the United States.

“As a designer, I have a front row seat to the trends that arise. Unfortunately, however, many people are not aware of the life-threatening consequences that come with the illegal wildlife trafficking of goods such as ivory or sea turtles,” says Lisa Pliner, a women’s shoe designer of the Donald & Lisa Signature Collection and active philanthropist. “Our environment is destroyed when we unnecessarily purchase wildlife products taken from innocent animals by force. Illegal trafficking needs to be stopped immediately for the survival of these magnificent animals.”

The Wildlife Trafficking exhibit will be held at the Crime Museum from June 2015, through February 2016, providing an opportunity for visitors to view a serious crime issue, and learn how to be a part of the solution. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website: http://www.crimemuseum.org.

This wildlife crime exhibit is made possible through the generous support from Freeland Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, INTERPOL, Kashmir World Foundation, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WildAid, Wildlife Trust of India and Youth Environmental Programs.

About the Crime Museum
Crime Museum is located in Washington D.C. Its mission is to provide guests of all ages with memorable insight into the issues of crime, crime fighting, and the consequences of committing a crime in America, through an interactive, entertaining, and educational experience. The museum offers walking tours, summer camps, galleries, a crime library, temporary and traveling exhibits, and more. For additional information, visit http://www.crimemuseum.org or follow the museum on Facebook and Twitter.

Source:
White House. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/nationalstrategywildlifetrafficking.pdf
 
NY Times. Obama administration plans to aggressively target wildlife trafficking. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/us/politics/obama-administration-to-target-illegal-wildlife-trafficking.html?_r=0
 
One Earth. The Elephant in the Room. http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/ivory-ban-new-york
 
World Wildlife Fund. Species statistics. https://www.worldwildlife.org/

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