What a president will do for wildlife has never been much of a campaign issue. Debates focus on national security, trade, economics, and to a lesser degree in this election cycle, on the environment. Wildlife, however, plays a part in all those concerns.
The illegal wildlife trade.
It’s a multibillion-dollar business that destabilizes developing countries, thrives on corruption, and funds warlords and terrorism. It’s easier to get away with smuggling animals than drugs or humans. Penalties are far lower, but the payoff can be just as high. When law enforcement officers intercept shipments of elephant ivory, rhino horn, and other wildlife products, the cargo is often worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Wildlife crime, increasingly, is organized crime.
We’re now moving toward a world with no elephants in the wild. Some 33,000 are killed by poachers every year for their ivory. And rhino poaching in South Africa, where most live, has exploded from 13 killed in 2007 to 1,175 in 2015 because of demand from both the traditional medicine trade and the newly wealthy in Asia, who see it as a status symbol. The trade in tiger parts is thriving, leaving only about 4,000 of the big cats in wild places, and restaurant demand for the scales of pangolins has decimated populations in Southeast Asia.
Given our demonstrably disastrous effects on wildlife, there is now recognition that humans have a certain obligation to protect wildlife for its own sake. In 2013 President Barack Obama issued an executive order directing 17 federal agencies to take on the battle in new and expanded ways. His State Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Attorney General’s office all worked at an international level to attack the trade by collaborating with supply, transit, and demand countries to reduce poaching and stifle demand.
President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of undoing Obama’s legacy. So what will a Trump presidency mean for wildlife at home and abroad? National Geographic has looked at what might happen under Trump when it comes to the illegal wildlife trade, climate change, hunting, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and habitat protection.
Photo by Jamie Zeschke