World Wildlife Day

In 2013 alone at least 20,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory.  In South Africa over the last two years more than 2,200 rhinos were killed for their horns.  These numbers are alarming, and with current rates of poaching exceeding birth rates could lead to extinction for these iconic and ecologically important creatures in their native environment.  Indeed, some elephant and rhino populations are on track to be locally extinct within the next decade. 
If you are reading this, you may already be aware of these facts.  But you might not know that wildlife trafficking not only threatens the existence of elephants and rhinos but is also devastating other species, such as tigers, tortoises, sea turtles — and the world’s most trafficked mammal — pangolins. 
Pangolins, also called scaly anteaters, may look like giant, walking pinecones but they are actually mammals — the only mammals that are entirely covered in tough scales.  There are eight different species of pangolins, four in Asia and four in Africa, and all are threatened with extinction.  Although pangolins are protected throughout most of the countries through which they  range, high demand in East Asia, where pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and where their scales are used in traditional medicines, is driving an illegal trade in both live animals and pangolin parts.  The volume of pangolin trafficking is astounding.  Experts believe that over the last ten years more than one million pangolins were taken from the wild.  By conservative estimates, between 40,000 and 81,250 pangolins were killed for the illegal trade in 2013 alone.
Last month, the United States released an Implementation Plan for the National Strategy on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which lays out the steps we will take to fight the illegal trade in wildlife, including pangolins.  We are strengthening enforcement; building international cooperation and commitments to protect wildlife; and — here is where you come in — raising awareness to drive down the demand that is fuelling the illegal trade.  
Get involved and commemorate World Wildlife Day (March 3rd)  by spreading the word.  Use social media and tell everyone you can that now — before it is too late — is the time to get serious about wildlife crime and end the demand that threatens species big and small, from the majestic elephant to the shy, scaly pangolin.    
About the Author: Judy Garber serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans, Environments and Science. Follow @StateDeptOES on Twitter for more from the OES Bureau.