Obama to launch major wildlife trafficking initiative in Africa

By Juliet Eilperin,  WASHINGTON POST Published: July 1, 2013 at 8:38 am E-mail the writer

President Obama will launch a new initiative in Tanzania on Monday aimed at combating illegal wildlife trafficking, according to White House officials.

Using his executive authority, Obama will convene a Cabinet-level task force composed of the State, Interior and Justice departments that will be charged with devising a national strategy to curb the illegal trade of wildlife across the globe. The initiative also will include $10 million specifically earmarked for addressing poaching in Africa, particularly of rhinos and elephants.

Grant Harris, the senior director for Africa for the National Security Council, told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama also will announce that he will detail a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official to Tanzania to help them tackle the issue.

This illicit activity—in which elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species are hunted in developing nations and sold to consumers in wealthier countries–  has reached unprecedented heights in recent years. It is now valued at between $7 billion to $10 billion a year, placing it among the world’s top five illegal activities after drugs, human trafficking, counterfeiting and arms.

The demand for animal parts, driven largely by Asia, has had a devastating effect on Africa’s wildlife. Roughly 30,000 African elephants were killed illegally in 2012, the largest number in 20 years. And this year alone South Africa has lost almost 450 rhinos, which could make 2013 a record for poaching of the imperiled species.

Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of conservation strategy and science for the World Wildlife Fund in the United States, said the move was significant because it brings “high-level attention to this serious crime issue” in an unprecedented way.

“This takes it up to the highest level in the government,” Hemley said in an interview. “It’s putting it at the level of narcotics and human trafficking.”

Harris said that rhinoceros horns are now selling on the black market for $30,000 a pound, or “literally worth greater than their weight in gold,” as he put it. Ivory from elephant tusks is selling or $1,000 a pound. ”It’s decimating the populations of some of Africa’s iconic  animals, including rhinoceros and elephants as well.”

In March an international convention of wildlife officials, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), refrained from imposing sanctions on Vietnam and Mozambique — which conservationists consider the world’s worst offenders in the illegal trade of rhino horn — but strongly urged the two countries to do far more to stop poaching.

U.S. efforts on this front have suffered a financial hit due to sequestration. The Fish and Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement canceled plans this year to train 24 new agents who investigate criminal activity.

“One thing we have been doing so far is raising the global profile of how bad this issue is,” Harris said. ”We’ve also had a massive diplomatic campaign, including under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she was at the State Department, convening people at State and making this a big diplomatic part of our policy.”

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the president  had raised the issue with China in an effort to address the demand side of the equation. “I know its come up at the president and the Secretary of State level with the Chinese,” Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One. “A lot of these syndicates are based in China.”

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Is China beginning to respond to the perceptions of its impact on wildlife?

Blogger Grace Ge Gabriel was overwhelmed by the reaction to her blog posted from the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties, entitled “My angst over China’s role in the trade of endangered species.”

In three days after the blog was posted on International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) China’s Weibo, (micro-blog site), it was viewed by nearly two thousand Chinese netizens and forwarded hundreds of times.

Of the over 200 comments, 99% supported her views.

“Many posts shared my feeling of shame and frustration about how China is viewed by the majority of citizens in many other countries, due to its relentless taking of resources around the world.”

click here

GREAT NEWS!

USA Projects is supporting wildLife Projects through their crowdfunding initiative on their website.  For those of you not familiar with USA Projects, it is a program created by United States Artists (USA), a nonprofit grantmaking and artist advocacy organization that has awarded over $17 million to America’s finest artists in the last six years. USA Projects hosts an online community where artists can post projects for funding and connect with those who love and support artists.

Their goal is to help artists successfully navigate the challenging world of online fundraising for their projects. Their expert team provides educational services, from fundraising 101 to case studies and best practices to project development and outreach support. A total of 75% of all artists who have turned to USA Projects have succeeded in funding their projects. USA Projects offers a patent-pending matching fund program, the only one of its kind, which encourages and leverages contributions to help artists succeed faster. All donations are tax deductible because they simultaneously support artists’ projects and the nonprofit mission of United States Artists: to invest in America’s finest artists and to illuminate the value of artists to society.

I hope to be a part of that 75%, but will need your help in doing so!  Please go to my project website by clicking this LINK.

I would be so grateful for your help and support in helping to bring this project to fruition!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!

The Introduction to the wildLIFE Project

The wildLIFE Project is a body of work that serves to illustrate and project to its viewers the plight of elephants and rhinoceros.  These animals are being killed off in alarming numbers for their ivory and their horns, only to serve the vain needs of humans.  This work is to be exhibited alongside an interpretive exhibition that will show graphs, maps, photos and videos that serves to educate the viewer further, with the intent of educating them about the vulnerability of these animals.  This project will also bring awareness to the problem of wild animal poaching and the need for wildlife protection.

The wildLIFE Project has been percolating for the past few years, but my passion for animals and particularly wildlife, goes back to childhood.  In 2004, my first piece about the demise of wild animals was completed after a visit to Tasmania, Australia.  Having read about the extinction of animals as a child, I wanted to build a shrine to the Tasmanian Tiger.   This issue is now emerging as a priority as I read about the thousands of elephants and rhinoceros being poached monthly and I can no longer only shed tears.

In recent years my work has taken a narrative direction, integrating images and text into shrine-like cabinet forms.   An earlier work, Executive Order 9066, addressed the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans during World War II.   The resulting exhibition was accompanied by a mini interpretive museum (inspired by regional museums one finds scattered across the US)  showing facts, statistics, maps, archival objects and photos.   This project was successful in that it became a community project, not only drawing artists and art lovers but also the broader communities, (Asian Americans, American history high school students).  The project served to educate many Americans that knew very little about this unfortunate piece of history.  Moving forward, this will be my template for the wildLIFE Project, where the ultimate goal remains the same asExecutive Order 9066:  that is to inform, as well as engage the viewers emotionally.  It will also  draw more advocates to this important cause.

My wildLIFE Project will similarly rely on photos, text, maps, and charts.  These details are critical to enhance the emotional weight of the theme.  It will be necessary to provide graphic images in order to heighten the viewers’ consciousness about the fact that these animals are fast approaching extinction.  The work will take on some characteristics of thebutsudan (The butsudan is a Buddhist shrine that is kept in the home to honor deceased family members) as a means of mourning the loss of so many animals.  As a furniture maker,  I want to build a series of these shrines – I have experimented with the cabinet form for many years now, and have found this form to be extremely effective in providing a housing for a diorama, or a miniature stage set.  I have confidence in working this way and am excited about the new subject matter that I will incorporate into these pieces.  Some will house images that will depict these animals, both alive, and (tragically) dead.

I will draw on the notion of how these animals come into our childhoods, and how in reality, these majestic animals belong not in circuses or zoos, but in LIFE, they belong in the wild.    I have a glimmer of hope that perhaps these animals can be saved – consequently not all the works will be foreboding.  I hope to instill a sense of nostalgia related to my own childhood memories of animals and what they meant to me. This work will have a sense of wonder and fantasy of the existence of the animals’ magnificence.   In addition to images I will continue using video in one or two of the works, much in the same manner as my other projects.  I have found that video provides a layer of information that is less static and more emotive than photos.

I plan to also experiment with the application of these images onto glass, which will add depth to my cabinet forms when they are open.  I will be an artist in residence at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA in May 2013 and will be working with both cold and hot glass for this body of work.  I am particularly excited about the prospects of transferring images onto flat glass sheets and using these in my work.

My supporters of the wildLIFE Project will receive a regular update from me through the blog that I will create.  This blog will provide not only updates about my progress through photos and video, but also any information and links that may be relevant to my topic of wildlife preservation.