South Africa and the United States will form a joint unit to track financial flows generated by wildlife poaching, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced Wednesday during a visit to the African country.
“To protect wildlife populations from poaching and disrupt the illegal trade that results from it, we must follow the money in the same way we do other serious crimes,” Yellen said during a visit to a game reserve in the north of the capital, Pretoria.
“This includes identifying and seizing the profits generated by illegal wildlife trafficking,” she said. The unit would improve information sharing between financial intelligence agencies to better support law enforcement in both countries, she added.
South Africa is home to nearly 80% of the world’s rhino population. This makes it a hotbed of poaching for this endangered animal, fueled by demand from Asia, where the pachyderm’s horns, mostly composed of keratin, are used in traditional medicine.
According to the NGO Save the Rhino International, nearly 10,000 rhinos roamed Kruger Park, South Africa’s largest game reserve, in 2013, compared to just over 2,400 currently, a 75% drop in less than a decade. Poaching in South Africa also targets pangolins and elephants.
Yellen is touring Africa, one of the first in a series of expected visits by senior U.S. administration officials since launching a diplomatic offensive in December on a continent that is the site of fierce economic and political competition between major powers, including China and Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov preceded her Monday in South Africa, which recently announced joint maneuvers in February with the Russian and Chinese navies off its coast.