Last night, the U.S. Senate acted to curb wildlife trafficking when it passed the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act (H.R. 2494), sending it back to the House for final action. This bipartisan legislation, which was championed by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jeff Flake R-Ariz., provides tools and resources necessary to combat the global poaching crisis that threatens some of the world’s most iconic species with extinction. A parallel effort has been led in the House by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and we expect the House to take up the bill next week.
Poaching and the trafficking in wildlife and wildlife parts constitute a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, with thousands of species and tens of millions of individual creatures traded for cash. The fate of large, iconic species, such as elephants, rhinoceros, and tigers, depends on the ability of our species to turn around this problem, place restrictions on the trade, and impose penalties that will choke it. It’s a global problem and a global fight, and we are playing on that stage, depending on governments in particular to help stem the trade.
The END Wildlife Trafficking Act will help the United States and partner countries counter criminals profiting from international wildlife trafficking. The bill aims to support global anti-poaching efforts, promote greater collaboration among stakeholders to stop poaching and wildlife trafficking, and reduce the profitability of poaching and wildlife trafficking.
As long as wildlife trafficking offers high financial rewards with relatively low risk, it’s an irresistible enterprise for bands of criminals. To address this issue, the bill also incorporates provisions that would increase penalties for wildlife trafficking crimes, bringing them in line with other serious criminal acts like drug, arms, and human trafficking – which can all involve the very same illicit networks engaged in wildlife trafficking. This language, championed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would allow serious wildlife infractions to trigger significant penalties under money-laundering statutes.
In 2013, the Obama Administration issued an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking, outlining a broad, interagency approach to “strengthen enforcement, reduce demand and increase cooperation.” The END Wildlife Trafficking Act builds on that work.
The problem of wildlife trafficking cannot be won with a single bill or executive action, or the actions of a single nation. The roots of killing and trading in wildlife are tangled and deep. But more and more nations realize that maintaining populations of wildlife is a key component of their future economic matrix. In short, it’s in the interests of nations and communities to protect wildlife and to keep the poachers and traffickers at bay. For nations like the United States, which are engaged in a global fight against terrorism, it’s an issue of not just wildlife security, but also national and global security. Illegal wildlife trafficking is extremely lucrative, netting billions of dollars annually, and often attracts highly organized transnational criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations. Wildlife rangers fighting poaching and trafficking on the frontlines lose their lives to these well-armed criminals with alarming frequency.
As with so many animal issues, doing the right thing for them turns out to be the right thing for us. We hope the House acts quickly to pass the END Wildlife Trafficking Act and sends it on to President Obama as a capstone to his determined efforts to protect elephants, rhinos, and other species, preserving these dramatic life forms that so many of us cherish.