Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Maria E. Brewer World Wildlife Day Event (March 3, 2016)

(as prepared for delivery) 

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for braving the traffic to be with us so early in the morning.  I’m pleased to be back here in Lagos with our esteemed guests from the Nigerian government, NGO community, academia, and members of the press on World Wildlife Day to host a dialog on conservation and wildlife trafficking here in Nigeria.  As we say here in Nigeria, please consider all protocols observed!

As a guest in this country for nearly 5 years, I have always been awestruck at the incredible diversity I find in Nigeria.  From Adamawa to Abia, from Kano to Cross-River, I have been captivated by the vast range of human and environmental richness of Nigeria. Every state has its jewels, in the culture of those who live there, and in the environment they call home.  Nigeria is home to a wealth of wildlife, including a number of endangered species like pangolins, elephants, the Cross River gorilla, grey parrots, and more.  Although these species actually come from all corners of Nigeria, though they are in danger of losing the habitats they call home.  Despite the fact that poaching, trading and selling these animals is prohibited, limited enforcement has allowed profiting from ivory, pangolin scales, bush meat, and the live animal trade.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, where poaching has almost eliminated some of the continent’s largest, most beautiful animals, to the brink of extinction, we see greater international attention to this threat.  The senseless slaughter in other regions of Africa, have resulted in West Africa and Nigeria in particular, become a growing hub for traffickers and poachers.   Trafficking networks source and pass wildlife products—ivory, animal parts, exotic pets—through Nigeria to other destinations around the globe.

This is a continental disaster in the making.  Across the world, we are losing our natural heritage at an alarming rate.  Species are being driven towards extinction faster than ever before.  In addition to pangolins, grey parrots, and Nigerian gorillas, the world’s children may soon never see an elephant or a black rhino, except in the photos of history books.  As Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed two years ago, we need to include care for the environment in everything we do.

Nigeria, by virtue of its size, location, and market position, can play a critical role in saving the continent’s most precious natural resources.  I would like to take this opportunity to call on the Nigerian government to enact and implement more strident penalties for wildlife trafficking, penalties that will help dissuade potential traffickers from using Nigeria as a transit point.

Preserving the natural world and its inhabitants is critical to a prosperous and stable Nigeria. Other nations have found that ecotourism helps in diversifying their economies, constituting a stabilizing force for government revenues, reducing reliance on the sale of natural resources. The continued pressure on oil prices highlights the advantage of a diversified economy that uses its natural resources in a sustainable way.

The U.S. does not expect Nigeria to act alone on this issue. President Obama issued a landmark executive order in 2013 to combat wildlife trafficking. His order demonstrates our resolve to strengthen enforcement, reduce demand, and promote strong partnerships to end wildlife trafficking.  Notably, last year, President Obama released a National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking that includes a near total ban on the commercial trade in ivory.

Here in Nigeria, we have found dedicated Nigerian partners trying to save a national heritage.   The U.S. Mission hopes to expand our cooperation by joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education to promote conservation, while combating poaching and wildlife trafficking with local partners.  The U.S. government, through our Fish and Wildlife Service, has been a long-time partner of the Wildlife Conservation Society and National Park Service. In the past five years, we provided $1.25 million to promote conservation of the rare primate species found in Cross River state.  The USAID West Africa Regional Mission, through its West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program, supports Nigeria and other countries in the region to more effectively combat wildlife trafficking through training and technical assistance.

All of these efforts form a part of America’s global commitment to cooperate with other nations on wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

But let me be clear: wildlife conservation cannot be solved by governments alone.  Communities and individuals also play a key role.  Communities should refuse to do business with illicit traders and poachers.  In the social media age, individuals can document and help to hold fellow citizens accountable for their actions by documenting illicit activities and reporting them.

I urge everyone today to rise to the challenge of preserving your forests and the wildlife that depend on it to survive. As an individual, don’t buy or trade poached or trafficked animals.  Do form groups to protect the environment where you live and to educate your neighbors.  Do help the Nigerian environmental authorities identify the poachers and work to proactively stop the trade of ivory and sale of bush meat.  By taking an active role, you can take part in saving Africa’s common heritage for future generations.

Thank you.