Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec White Gold Screening

Hamjambo na karibuni.

Welcome and thank you all for coming this evening to the screening of the African Environmental Film Foundation’s documentary White Gold.  I am very happy to have Ian Saunders here, one of the producers of the film, to introduce it and share information on his important work with the Tsavo Trust.

White Gold highlights the global impact of the illegal ivory trade.  Over the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more violent than ever before.  Demand for ivory and rhino horn has grown, and in far too many places they are a status symbol for the newly wealthy.  Ivory trafficking is at an all-time high and elephant populations are declining across the region.  As just one example, reports suggest that Tanzania’s elephant population has declined 66 percent since 2009.  Rhinos, too, are under great pressure.

Unfortunately, national authorities across the continent face challenges stopping the illegal activity as poachers are ever better organized and armed.  People who live near wildlife populations, many of whom depend on the wildlife tourism for jobs, find their lives threatened by gangs with guns looking for a poaching opportunity.  As a result, wildlife stewardship is now more than just an economic issue.  It is now a national security issue.  Today, stopping poaching has become critical to Kenya, to the region and to the world.

The U.S. government has made the eradication of wildlife trafficking a key foreign policy objective.  President Obama has established a presidential task force that developed our National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which is now being implemented.  By Executive Order, the U.S. government has pledged $10 million to combat the illegal wildlife trade.  Wildlife conservation is also a top priority for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and for me personally.  Our Mission is doing all that it can to support U.S. and Kenyan initiatives to protect and preserve Kenya’s natural heritage.

We welcome our collaboration with the Government of Kenya, notably with the Kenya Wildlife Service, as well as the many civil society organizations that seek to address the growing threat of wildlife trafficking in Kenya.  One example of our collaboration is the establishment of Regional Rural Border Patrol Units by the Government of Kenya with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The Units are trained to combat poaching and the illicit traffic of wildlife goods and has resulted in greater cooperation between the wildlife services of Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya and the protection of wildlife that crosses those borders.

USAID also has a long history of working with the Kenyan Wildlife Service and other partners to engage communities to protect their wildlife and reduce human-wildlife conflict through community conservancies.  Not long ago, I got to see the great work being done by the Northern Rangelands Trust, which is supported by USAID, through its conservancies such as the newest one in Nasuulu.

During my visit to NRT and Nasuulu, I saw the many ways community conservation is making a difference.  It is helping protect wildlife, create jobs, and ensure security for the people of the region.  Community conservation is important, but, of course, much more is needed.  We need governments, civil society, businesses, scientists, and activists to come together to educate people about the harms of wildlife trafficking.  We need law enforcement to redouble its efforts to find poachers and put them in prison.  We need experts to find new ways to track and stop the transshipment of ivory and horn.  We need finance experts to study the black markets that deal in wildlife so we can identify them and destroy them.  And most importantly, we need citizens in importing countries to understand that when they buy a piece of ivory or horn, they are killing a magnificent animal as surely as if they had pulled the trigger themselves.  They need to understand that buying a piece of ivory or horn is just flat wrong.

Ian Saunders has devoted his life’s work to this issue and is one of the world’s foremost experts and a respected advocate for the preservation of elephants.  We are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear his views on the threat to elephants and other animals, and what should be done.  Ian has testified at U.S. Congressional Hearings to identify the national and international security implications of the poaching epidemic.  His organization, the Tsavo Trust, is dedicated to enhancing wildlife conservation through partnership and collaboration with other NGOs, with the government of Kenya, and with communities and private stakeholders to build a shared vision for the future.

I want to thank Ian and the Tsavo Trust for their extraordinary efforts.  I also want to thank everyone here from the conservation and wildlife community who has been involved in this issue for many years.  I know you are working hard to stop poaching.  I’ve seen your dedication and commitment first hand.  I want to assure you of the strong commitment by the U.S. government and U.S. Embassy Nairobi to your work and to protecting Kenya’s wildlife heritage.  The United States and Kenya have been partners for 50 years and that strong partnership remains a source of strength as we tackle this issue together.  And together, I know we can put an end to poaching and the illegal trade in ivory, rhino horn, and other animal products.

With that I am pleased to invite Ian Saunders to say a few words.

Asanteni sana.  Thank you.