Home People Interviews Meet Robert D. Hormats, U.S. Under Secretary of State

Meet Robert D. Hormats, U.S. Under Secretary of State

Meet Robert D. Hormats, U.S. Under Secretary of State

U.S. Under Secretary of State, Robert Hormats and WWF India CEO and Secretary General, Ravi Singh, in discussion at the Illegal Trade in Wildlife Round Table, organised jointly by the U.S. Embassy, TRAFFIC and WWF India in New Delhi on January 29, 2013.Courtesy: WWF India/TRAFFIC.

Shubhobroto Ghosh, Senior Programme Officer, TRAFFIC India, interviewed U.S. Under Secretary of State, Robert Hormats, following his participation in the Illegal Trade in Wildlife Round Table, held in New Delhi on January 29, 2013.

How does the United States perceive the likely overall impacts of illegal wildlife trade on wildlife conservation globally, particularly in South Asia, and how does the U.S. perceive India’s position in controlling the global illegal wildlife trade?

Wildlife trafficking not only seriously undermines conservation efforts globally, but also threatens international security, livelihoods and public health. While it is not a new phenomenon, there has been a significant increase in the number of poaching incidents and the sophistication of poaching operations. Unchecked demand for exotic pets, clothing and jewellery, traditional medicines and exotic foods has driven many species to extinction or near-extinction. Wildlife trafficking is often intertwined with other illegal activities that undermine the security and stability of regions and communities. South Asia, and particularly India, is a biodiversity hotspot, which also makes it attractive to poachers. A common theme we discussed at the recent Illegal Trade in the Wildlife Round Table organised by TRAFFIC, WWF India and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, was how the skins and parts of endangered species are being recovered in different countries from where the animals were originally killed. This highlights the importance of international coordination of intelligence and enforcement activities. Much of the wildlife that is poached in India is destined for markets elsewhere. India can be a leader in engaging other governments to cooperate in the fight against poaching and trafficking, while strengthening its own enforcement agencies and capabilities. India has excellent wildlife laws and can support better coordination between regional enforcement networks and promote dialogue and greater cooperation among enforcement agencies in the region. We support India’s efforts in stamping out all kinds of wildlife crime, which is an important goal of the Indian government and its people.

What roles can TRAFFIC and the WWF play in cooperating with the U.S. government to achieve common objectives of controlling illegal wildlife trade and thus enhance conservation?

Organisations like the WWF and TRAFFIC play a crucial leadership role in conserving wildlife and curbing the illegal trade in wildlife. The United States is a major destination and transit point for trafficked wildlife articles, primarily exotic pets, and, to that extent, we are part of the problem. However, we are determined to be part of the solution. The United States coordinates wildlife conservation and enforcement efforts with other governments, international organisations and conventions, NGOs and the private sector using a four-pillar ‘Conservation Matters’ strategy: 1) Catalysing political will and diplomatic outreach;  2) engaging in public diplomacy and outreach; 3) identifying training and technology needs; and 4) building on existing partnerships and initiating new cooperation to improve enforcement capacity and reduce consumer demand. The U.S. and India have been cooperating on wildlife conservation issues for many years. We pride ourselves in working together with organisations like the WWF and TRAFFIC to achieve our common goals of conserving wildlife globally.

Will the U.S. be willing to share modern techniques and know-how that have been developed for handling wildlife crimes and smuggling with countries of the Asian region, particularly India, and the major agencies concerned based in this country, including TRAFFIC, that are focussed on combating wildlife crimes and illegal wildlife trade?

The United States is committed to tackling wildlife trafficking. We believe combining our common efforts can only result in better enforcement and capacity building for the park rangers and foresters in both our countries and the Asian region more broadly. We will continue to build on regional wildlife enforcement networks (WEN) to strengthen response actions.  We will work with partners around the globe, including India and NGOs such as WWF and TRAFFIC, to promote WENs, and we will also encourage close cooperation among source, transit, and destination countries so that wildlife traffickers can be arrested, prosecuted and convicted. The United States is definitely willing to share its knowledge with its partners to improve the collective ability to protect wildlife and prevent poaching.

We support innovative transnational approaches to address wildlife trafficking. We also provide financial and technical support to wildlife protection programmes in several countries. We, along with our partners around the world, are committed to taking meaningful steps to strengthen global efforts to combat illegal trade in wildlife by promoting public education, capacity building, global cooperation, and increased enforcement. We have supported the formation of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), of which India is an active member. At the Second Asian Ministerial Meeting on Tiger Conservation, the U.S. Ambassador to India and Bhutan announced USAID’s funding for INTERPOL’s Project PREDATOR, to support the SAWEN in protecting wild tigers. We will encourage our Embassies around the globe to include wildlife trafficking and conservation issues in official bilateral or regional policy dialogues.

Only male Asian elephants have tusks and they have therefore become the vicious target of poachers. The sex-ratio imbalance will lead to a very serious genetic diversity problem, possibly heading towards the gradual ‘loss’ of the ‘tusk gene’ altogether, if the species somehow outlasts the illegal trade.Photograph by Hira Punjabi.

How will information be shared by the U.S. Department of State among international agencies connected with wildlife law enforcement and intelligence collection, and how much of the information will be made available in the public domain?

We are willing to share information and best practices on wildlife enforcement as broadly as possible with law enforcement agencies and organisations. Open, honest communication between U.S. law enforcement agencies and their Indian counterparts is essential for understanding the unique nature of wildlife crime in India and developing the most effective tools to combat it. For example, wildlife forensics is an excellent tool that was used to apprehend Asiatic lion poachers in India a few years ago. Additionally, some high-profile species and illicit networks involved in the illegal trade are well known, but there may be many other species and networks that do not get the attention they deserve, or go unreported. While transparency is a vital characteristic of governance, by its nature, law enforcement efforts require some information to be kept confidential. Remember, information in the public domain is available to criminals as well.

Irrespective of the fact that each nation has a sovereign right and duty to control its wildlife crimes and eliminate illegal wildlife trade, what suggestions does the U.S. have for countries in South Asia for dealing with wildlife crimes and regulating illegal wildlife trade more effectively and globally?

Booming economies and growing disposable incomes in parts of Asia have caused an increase in demand and a spike in prices for many wildlife products. This puts additional pressure on source countries such as India. I believe empowering local communities and making them partners in enforcement can help local enforcement officers gather intelligence. Also, greater economic opportunities for people living around India’s vast treasure of wildlife will protect India’s cultural heritage by lessening the temptation to make money through poaching. Promoting awareness activities, particularly among youth, will help create a mass support system that speaks for and protects India’s biodiversity.  Most importantly, empowering our park rangers and foresters, our warriors that protect biodiversity, is crucial for successful conservation efforts. Providing rangers and foresters with the tools and skills they need, incentivising results, and rewarding their successes will go a long way.

Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2013.


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