Trafficking in wildlife is one of the most lucrative illicit trades in the world, involving tens of billions of dollars, and the United States is — unfortunately — a big part of the problem, as one of the world’s largest markets for wildlife and wildlife parts and products. Worse, a number of American trophy hunters are active in poaching and illegal trafficking schemes. Just last week, Ross Jackson, a Colorado hunter and at the time a vice president of Dallas Safari Club, pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act, after poaching an elephant in a national park in Zimbabwe with a plan to sell the ivory in South Africa.
Two bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week would directly address wildlife trafficking and poaching, and prohibit trophy hunting of endangered and threatened species in the United States as well as the import into this country of any animal species listed as endangered or threatened.
Today, Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2018, H.R. 5697. The legislation seeks to strengthen law enforcement safeguards against wildlife trafficking and related activities. One of the bill’s measures makes certain wildlife trafficking and poaching violations predicate offenses (crimes that are components of more serious offenses) under federal racketeering and organized crime statutes. The bill builds on the success of the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016, which made wildlife trafficking a predicate offense under the federal money laundering criminal statute. The Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act creates incentives for whistleblowers to report on wildlife trafficking, by raising awareness of monetary rewards, particularly in countries of special concern. The bill also provides funding and additional support for programs that protect sharks, marine mammals, turtles and other wild animals. In addition, it makes U.S. territories and outlying areas eligible for federal funding for marine turtle conservation.
The Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies (ProTECT) Act of 2018, H.R. 5690, introduced last night by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., will also help ensure that U.S. trophy hunters do not further imperil species on the brink of extinction. The bill prohibits trophy hunting in the United States of any species listed under the Endangered Species Act and prohibits the import of any trophy of an ESA-listed species into the United States.
Trophy hunting is not popular with U.S. voters. In a poll released by the Humane Society of the United States last December, 69 percent of voters oppose it. This figure includes 61 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of non-partisan voters. In addition, 80 percent of respondents oppose the hunting of ESA-listed African lions and African elephants and allowing their bodies or parts to be imported to the United States. In November, President Trump called trophy hunting a “horror show” and expressed doubts that it “in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”
Despite such opposition, the U.S. government is actively catering to trophy hunting interests seeking to make the import of trophy-hunted ESA-listed species easier. In January the Department of the Interior established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stacked with trophy hunters and virtually bereft of wildlife scientists or conservation policy experts. Still more outrageous, in March the Trump administration lifted bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries, and indicated it would review import permits on a case-by-case basis, shielding trophy import decisions from public input.
We applaud Reps. Bordallo, Young, Jackson Lee and Lieu for their leadership in tackling wildlife trafficking and trophy hunting. Please contact your U.S. representative and urge him/her to cosponsor the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act and the ProTECT Act.