Combating Wildlife Trafficking:

Agencies Are Taking a Range of Actions, but the Task Force Lacks Performance Targets for Assessing Progress

GAO-16-717: Published: Sep 22, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2016.

Multimedia:

  • GAO: US Efforts to Combat Wildlife TraffickingVIDEO: US Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking
    Highlights of U.S. government efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in countries such as Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Kimberly Gianopoulos
(202) 512-8612
gianopoulosk@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Africa’s iconic elephants and rhinos face extinction

The illegal trade in wildlife is worth an estimated $7 billion to $23 billion annually—and is pushing some animals to the brink of extinction.

To help combat wildlife trafficking and the transnational and other criminal groups profiting from it, President Obama established a federal task force in 2013. While the task force has helped address trafficking by assisting local law enforcement and supporting conservation efforts, it is difficult to gauge its progress.

We recommend that the task force develop specific performance targets to assess progress and identify areas for improvement.

U.S.-supported ranger units protect threatened animals across Africa

Africa map, photos of a rhino and an elephant, and photos of ranger units receiving U.S. assistance.

Africa map, photos of a rhino and an elephant, and photos of ranger units receiving U.S. assistance.

Multimedia:

  • GAO: US Efforts to Combat Wildlife TraffickingVIDEO: US Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking
    Highlights of U.S. government efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in countries such as Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Kimberly Gianopoulos
(202) 512-8612
gianopoulosk@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

While criminal elements of all kinds, including some terrorist entities and rogue security personnel, engage in poaching and transporting ivory and rhino horn across Africa, transnational organized criminals are the driving force behind wildlife trafficking, according to reports GAO reviewed and agency officials GAO spoke with in the United States and Africa. Wildlife trafficking can contribute to instability and violence and harm people as well as animals. According to reports, about 1,000 rangers were killed from 2004 to 2014. Wildlife trafficking in Africa particularly affects large animals, with populations of elephants and rhinos diminishing at a rate that puts them at risk of extinction.

This Elephant Died in Northern Kenya Several Days after Sustaining Bullet Wounds

This Elephant Died in Northern Kenya Several Days after Sustaining Bullet Wounds

Agencies of the interagency Task Force leading U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking are taking a range of conservation and capacity-building actions. The Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, provides law enforcement assistance and supports global conservation efforts. The Department of State contributes to law enforcement capacity building and diplomatic efforts, while the Department of Justice prosecutes criminals and conducts legal training to improve partner-country capacity. Further, the U.S. Agency for International Development works to build community and national- level enforcement capacity and supports various approaches to combat wildlife trafficking. Several other agencies also contribute expertise or resources to support various activities outlined in the Task Force's National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking Implementation Plan .

The Task Force provides some information about progress, but it lacks performance targets, making effectiveness difficult to determine at the strategic level. A fundamental element in an organization's efforts to manage for results is its ability to set specific targets that reflect strategic goals. Task Force officials identified a range of reasons why they do not have targets, including dependence on global partners, the long time periods needed to document results, and limited data availability. However, Task Force agencies have provided performance targets for other efforts that face similar challenges. Without targets, it is unclear whether the Task Force's performance is meeting expectations, making it difficult to gauge progress and to ensure that resources are being utilized most effectively in their efforts against wildlife trafficking.

Why GAO Did This Study

Illegal trade in wildlife—wildlife trafficking—continues to push some protected and endangered animal species to the brink of extinction, according to the Department of State. Wildlife trafficking undermines conservation efforts, can fuel corruption, and destabilizes local communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and ecotourism revenues. This trade is estimated to be worth $7 billion to $23 billion annually. In 2013, President Obama issued an executive order that established the interagency Task Force charged with developing a strategy to guide U.S. efforts on this issue.

GAO was asked to review U.S. government efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. This report focuses on wildlife trafficking in Africa, particularly of large animals, and examines, among other things, (1) what is known about the security implications of wildlife trafficking and its consequences, (2) actions Task Force agencies are taking to combat wildlife trafficking, and (3) the extent to which the Task Force assesses its progress. GAO analyzed agency documents and met with U.S. and host country officials in Washington, D.C.; Kenya; South Africa; and Tanzania.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Secretaries of State and the Interior and the Attorney General of the United States, as co-chairs, jointly work with the Task Force to develop performance targets related to the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking Implementation Plan . Agencies agreed with GAO's recommendation.

For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: Agency agreed with recommendation and plans to implement it

    Recommendation: To provide a basis for comparing actual results with intended results that can generate more meaningful performance information, the Secretaries of the Interior and State and the Attorney General of the United States should jointly work with the Task Force to develop performance targets related to the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking Implementation Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: Agency agreed with recommendation and plans to implement it

    Recommendation: To provide a basis for comparing actual results with intended results that can generate more meaningful performance information, the Secretaries of the Interior and State and the Attorney General of the United States should jointly work with the Task Force to develop performance targets related to the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking Implementation Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: Agency agreed with recommendation and plans to implement it

    Recommendation: To provide a basis for comparing actual results with intended results that can generate more meaningful performance information, the Secretaries of the Interior and State and the Attorney General of the United States should jointly work with the Task Force to develop performance targets related to the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking Implementation Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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