State Department Paints A Target On Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn Wildlife Traffickers

Up to $1 million is available to anyone with information that can lead to the dismantling of the Laos-based Xaysavang Network.

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Bill Butcher, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this photo made available by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a collection of carved elephant tusks confiscated from a Philadelphia art store owner dealer.

The Obama Administration has posted $1 million bounty for information that leads to the dismantling of the notorious Laos-based Xaysavang Network, wildlife traffickers known for deals involving elephant ivory and rhino horn trades between Africa and East Asia.

This is the first reward from the Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program that was established in 2013 to complement the President’s transnational crime strategy. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday in a statement that criminal organizations’ involvement of in wildlife trafficking “perpetuates corruption, threatens the rule of law and border security in fragile regions, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and eco-tourism.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes the day before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will destroy six tons of the nation’s ivory stockpiles in Colorado by crushing the contraband. State department officials hope that the combined efforts will send traffickers the message that the U.S. will use the full brunt of its power to combat the trade and crime syndicates as a whole. “The fact that we’re now vectoring in on the wildlife trafficking community is good news for us and, in my opinion, those in wildlife,” Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told TIME. “And I hope very bad news for those involved in wildlife trafficking.”

Though illegal wildlife trafficking is a decades old issue, the recent spike in demand across Asia and the involvement of organizations like the Xaysavang Network have led officials to consider trafficking as an issue that goes beyond conservation. “Wildlife traffickers have gotten a sort of free ride over last several decades,” Brownfield told TIME. “Although the conservation and preservation communities have done an extraordinarily good job, we’re now addressing it as a law enforcement issue.”

Assistant Secretary Brownfield also said that by targeting a wildlife trafficker they might be able to topple other trafficking networks as well. According to the State Department, illicit wildlife dealers are more often than not also involved in human, drug, and firearm trafficking.  Global profits from wildlife trafficking are estimated at between $8 and $10 billion per year.

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