Obama in $13m effort to cut wildlife trafficking

DAR ES SALAAM (AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order launching a US$10 million (S$12.7 milllion) bid to cut wildlife trafficking in Africa, which threatens to decimate rhinoceros and elephant populations.

US officials said that President Obama, who is in Tanzania, would set up a task force to develop a strategy against the illicit wildlife trade that is estimated to be worth between US$7 billion and US$10 billion a year.

Mr Grant Harris, senior director for Africa on the National Security Council, told reporters that illicit wildlife trade was "decimating the population of some of Africa's iconic animals". He said that rhinoceros horn was worth around US$30,000 per pound on the black market - making it literally worth more than its weight in gold.

The US investment will see US$3 million in assistance to South Africa, US$3 million in financing for Kenya and US$4 million to projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The plan is intended to strengthen policies combating trafficking throughout the region and enhance law enforcement capacity, and work out ways to prosecute those caught in the trade.

President Obama flew into Tanzania earlier on Monday on the final leg of a three-nation Africa tour.

Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years. Besides targeting rhinos, whole herds of elephants have been massacred for their ivory.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.