Trade in wildlife second in scale only to factory farming when it comes to animal exploitation

Congress takes aim at multi-billion-dollar trade in wildlife parts

Co-authored by Wayne Pacelle

From ivory tusks to bear ball bladders to rhino horn to pangolin scales, wildlife trafficking involves the killing of wild animals for commercial sale of their parts and other products. It occurs on a scale second perhaps only to factory farming. From bush meat bandits to rural militias to international criminal syndicates, the body count they amass is in the hundreds of millions and the commercial take is, according to some estimates, upwards of a staggering $10 billion.

There’s nothing more threatening to an animal than death or to a species than extinction. It’s permanent and often cruel, whether it’s conducted by shooting, snaring, spearing, hooking, netting, poisoning, or explosives.

Wildlife trafficking is also a threat to the national security of nations, including the United States. Poachers and other thieves kill elephants, rhinos, sharks, and other creatures and have been known to use those profits to purchase arms and other weapons to enable other crimes. They bribe public officials and law enforcement and weaken the rule of law. It some cases, militant groups destabilize nations and perpetrate terrorist attacks. In Africa, Lord’s Resistance Army has been involved in the illegal killing of elephants in Uganda, South Sudan, and the Congo. The Janjaweed Arab militia of Sudan have also butchered wildlife, including elephants. Resistencia Nacional Moçambicana also traded in rhino horn and ivory during Mozambique’s civil war.

Because it is unregulated, and often conducted with ruthless efficiency, it can liquidate or extirpate entire species. Scarcity cripples ecotourism. Without wildlife, the wildlife watching goes away.

And it’s no exaggeration to say there’s a war going on over wildlife trafficking. Rangers and other law enforcement put their lives at risk to defend wildlife. Every year, poachers kill hundreds of men and women who are the thin green line protecting defenseless animals from men with AK-47s and other weapons of war.

And it’s not just a problem that happens in some foreign land. We have more than our share of poaching problems in the U.S. Poachers kill North American bears of several species for their gall bladders and for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Sharks have their fins cut off and are traded on our continent for shark fin soup. The United States, after China, is the second biggest market for wildlife products in the world.

Our federal government, across Democrat and Republican Administrations, has taken action against the ivory and rhino horn trade, adopting strict national rules and urging adopting of international strictures through United Nations treaties. Congress is actively pursuing additional legislative remedies to broaden the scope of protection and to address the range of species targeted.

Strengthening enforcement capacity, encouraging and helping whistleblowers, and dedicating funds for wildlife conservation are key to stopping cruelty and enhancing conservation.

Animal Wellness Action is very encouraged by the swell of action of the 116th Congress on legislation that will address the growing destruction of wildlife in the United States and internationally.

Bears and bladders: The Bear Protection Act, introduced by Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., and Glenn Thompson, R—Pa., would crack down on the poaching of bears for their gallbladders. Across the world, poachers target adult bears and cubs for their bladders, bile, and even their paws. The problem became particularly acute in the 1980’s, when hunters and park rangers in the U.S. began finding dead bears missing only gallbladders, leading to investigations that have uncovered evidence of large commercial organizations dealing in poaching and smuggling of bear parts. While 40 states have laws on the books to address this trade, these vary widely state-to-state. Ultimately, the trade must be prohibited entirely in order to stop poaching of American bear gallbladders and stop contributing to this cruelty globally.

Whisterblowers and rewards: Introduced by Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., the Rescuing Animals with Rewards Act (RAWR) would modify the U.S. Department of State rewards program to authorize rewards to individuals who furnish information that assists in the prevention or identification of crimes related to wildlife trafficking. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.R. 97 today.

Trophy hunting of threatened species: The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act would restrict the importation of sport-hunted species that have been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The legislation, introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., comes as a direct answer to the 2015 merciless killing of Cecil, a majestic African lion who had been lured out of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and shot with an arrow. Thousands of Americans trek to Africa and Asia to kill the rarest species and seek ways to import the trophies. The Cecil Act would stop the imports of species listed, or proposed for listing, as threatened or endangered under U.S. law.

Shark finning: The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737, introduced by Reps. Gregorio Sablan, D-Northern Marianas, and Michael McCaul, R-Tex., and S. 877, introduced by Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., would prohibit the import, export, possession, trade and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Some experts surmise that upwards of 70 million sharks are killed every year, many for their fins. It’s a particular disgrace to kill an animal for a part that amounts to one percent of its body weight. Marine scientists tell us that dramatic reductions in the population of sharks has a cascading effect on our marine ecosystems. The House Natural Resources Committee conducted a hearing on H.R. 737 in March, and the Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported S. 877 just days after it was introduced.

Stopping the criminal syndicates: The Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2019, H.R. 864, introduced by Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Don Young, R-Alaska, would strengthen enforcement by making serious wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses under federal racketeering and anti-organized crime laws (RICO and Travel Acts). It would give rewards to whistleblowers who provide tangible intelligence about wildlife trafficking syndicates, and it would funnel money from any penalties, fines, forfeitures, and restitution paid to the U.S. government to support wildlife conservation efforts, at no expense to American taxpayers.

This array of anti-trafficking measures is a multi-pronged response to fulfill our responsibilities to protect wildlife, protect the rule of law, and promote national and economic security. The Congress should approve all of these measures with haste.

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