The illegal trade in wildlife risks instability in range nations; fuels an organized, international network of criminals who also deal in arms, people and drug trafficking; and threatens the very future of treasured animals such as lions, elephants and rhinos. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are global leaders in the effort to stop wildlife trafficking and its devastating consequences.
To further boost its effectiveness, the Service is adding five attachés to its ranks of experienced criminal investigators already working with nations throughout the globe to combat wildlife trafficking. The new attachés will be deployed to U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America.
Service wildlife law enforcement attachés are experienced criminal investigators who specialize in wildlife and natural resource investigations. They support wildlife investigations within a host country and region by providing training and capacity building, and they advise on leveraging U.S. assets in the host region to combat wildlife trafficking. Currently there are seven Service attachés at American embassies in Bangkok, Thailand; Beijing, China; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Gaborone, Botswana; Libreville, Gabon; Lima, Peru; and Mexico City, Mexico.
“To detect and deter wildlife trafficking, the U.S. government must work with partners beyond our borders,” said Todd Willens, DOI assistant deputy secretary. “These highly trained and experienced criminal investigators are the United States’ front line, working with other countries to fight wildlife trafficking in source, transit and destination regions of the world.”
Investigative work involving international species and other efforts focused on protecting global species has accounted for a significant portion of the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement’s work since the 1980s. More than half of wildlife crime investigations undertaken by Service officers each year now involve global species.
Attachés have provided extensive support to local authorities engaged in wildlife trafficking investigations and vital access to Service resources such as the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory and the Digital Evidence Recovery and Technical Support Unit. Several transnational organized crime investigations involving the trafficking of elephant ivory, rhino horn and reptiles between Africa and Asia have been initiated as a direct result of attaché intervention, and attachés have assisted extensively in fostering intelligence sharing and investigative support between affected nations.
At each post, Service attachés are vital members of “country teams” and participate with partners in broader enforcement working groups. They function on a regional basis to create, maintain and use government-to-government relationships to combat wildlife crime and build wildlife crime enforcement capacity. Attachés work largely in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and high-level representatives from foreign governments.
DOI and the Service’s work to combat the illegal trade in wildlife supports President Trump’s Executive Order 13773: “Enforce Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking,” in which wildlife trafficking is identified as a focal area.