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Global Wildlife Coalition Launched in Kenya

In Kenya, a United States-led coalition of governments, conservation groups, industries and scientists Saturday launched a global initiative to fight the multi-billion illegal trade in wildlife. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking aims to reduce the demand for endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and to prosecute the poaching and supply of this wildlife.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for environmental affairs, Claudia McMurray, estimates that the wildlife trade is valued at anywhere from $10 to $20 billion a year.

She says that, in addition to bringing animals, such as tigers and rhinos, to near extinction, the illegal trade also hurts African economies.

"It's still a tremendous problem across Africa and around the world. Because there are so many countries in Africa that rely on wildlife for their livelihoods, for tourism in particular, we consider this issue to be extremely significant," she said.

The illegal wildlife trade includes capturing and selling animals, such as cheetahs, for pets, and procuring and selling animal parts, such as tusks and tiger bone.

The group says the trade is often closely linked to organized crime, and follows the same routes as those used to smuggle drugs and people.

Internationally, there are two major conventions that apply to the wildlife trade: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, commonly known as CITES; and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

But, says McMurray, there are shortfalls in the conventions' implementation, particularly the CITES agreement. "It's been very, very strong on the protection side, but then the national governments don't necessarily either have the resources or the expertise to put the teeth in [enforce] those restrictions," she said.

The coalition includes the governments of the United States, Australia, India and the United Kingdom.

Other members include the World Conservation Union, Humane Society International and the World Wildlife Fund.