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Bo Derek: Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

Stopping Illegal WildlifeTrafficking: Interview With Special Envoy of the Secretary of State for Wildlife Trafficking Issues Bo Derek

MR. MCCORMACK: Bo Derek, thanks very much for joining us here at the State Department. You're down here in Washington to talk about trafficking in wildlife, specifically, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Wildlife, as well as recent public service announcements that you help produce. Tell us a little bit about this.

MS. DEREK: The public service announcements are with Harrison Ford and our partnership with the State Department, the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, and a nongovernment organization called Wild Aid. And they are with Harrison Ford. And to me, the idea of trafficking our endangered wildlife, trying to protect our endangered wildlife just doesn't work unless we reduce the demand, the idea that we can protect these animals in parks or in the seas around the world, when there's a bounty on their head. It's bigger than I can imagine – the solution. So the idea of going to the demand side and reducing the demand, reaching out to the consumers, I can see that working.

And Harrison Ford was at a luncheon today and he said he's not an expert on wildlife and the problems to conserve wildlife. He said, "I know communication, and I think that's where I can understand reaching out the public and trying to educate them not to consume these animals." And we're at a point with a lot of these species that they must – they will stop consuming them and their body parts, our endangered animals, either voluntarily and leaving some of them alive and in the wild, or very soon they're going to have to stop consuming because there just aren't going to be any more. And for instance, our tigers are at that point right now. The estimates are anywhere from 4,000 left in the wild, to today, I've heard, 1,400. And we're at a point of no return, where they just won't be in the wild in our lifetime.

MR. MCCORMACK: You talked a little bit about the demand side.


MR. MCCORMACK: Here in the United States, people may say, "Well, you know, this isn't that big an issue. Why are you devoting your time to this?" Talk to us a little bit about the scope of the problem in terms of demand here in the United States.

MS. DEREK: It's a lot bigger than I ever knew. The trafficking in wildlife and endangered wildlife is, in some estimates, second to drugs, bigger than arms and humans. And it's anywhere from $10 billion to $20 billion internationally.

MR. MCCORMACK: Ten to – ten to 20 billion?

MS. DEREK: Yes. And I suspected China and Asia were the biggest consumers, which they are. But I was really embarrassed to find out that the U.S. is number two, in consuming endangered wildlife.

MR. MCCORMACK: So what sort of – what sort of things do people traffic in here in the United States?

MS. DEREK: Anything from reptiles. We still have ivory coming in illegally, tortoise shell, coral jewelry, so many, shatoosh shawls, so many items and this also reaches into some plant life and things like that. But so much of the problem is education, I think.


MS. DEREK: And if people understand that when they buy this product, they're – they are responsible for killing the animal, even over the traffickers, in my opinion.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in this issue.

MS. DEREK: I got involved -- I was visiting the Galapagos Islands seven years ago. And it's an amazingly magical place. And I thought, well, this is Eden. This is the most untouched place in the world, only to find out -- there was an expert, an environmental expert on the boat with me, who explained very quickly that I was wrong, that sharks are being decimated from finning, an illegal form of fishing where they hack off the fins and throw the body back, and the fins are used for shark fin soup in Asia. And sea cucumbers, for instance, which are a vital part of the whole ecosystem in the ocean, fishermen can't even make their legal quota anymore. In the seven years since I've been going to the Galapagos, you just hardly see sharks anymore. So that's when I got involved and realized that the problem is so much bigger than just designating an area protected. It's not enough.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. So we talked a little bit about the demand, the demand side here in the United States. Talk a little bit about what Americans, when they're traveling overseas, might do to make sure that they don't inadvertently participate in this kind of wildlife trafficking.

MS. DEREK: Yes. Traveling overseas, you can't trust the person selling you an item. Don't believe them. If they say it's okay to buy something made from an animal product. The best is just – don't buy it. And Harrison Ford says that in one of – in one of the pieces. You know, when someone says it's okay to buy this, don't buy it. Don't buy it. Don't buy it. That's the safest thing. MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. So basically, if you suspect, well, this deal is too good to be true or – then – then it probably is.

MS. DEREK: Yeah, and if they tell you there are a lot of these reptiles, so it's okay to buy these shoes or this handbag, just don't buy it, be safe. There are websites, I think you can go on the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking website. You can have links to websites that will show you what is endangered. But the best is just not – not to buy it. MR. MCCORMACK: Terrific. Bo Derek, thank you very much for joining us here at the State Department. You are the first person from outside the State Department that we have done one of these policy podcasts with, so thank you very much.

MS. DEREK: Oh, thank you, it's a pleasure.

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