As the Global Anti-Poaching Act (H.R. 2494) remains open to amendments on the House of Representatives floor, wildlife advocates are clamoring to have their voices heard – and with good reason.
Though international resolutions against the trafficking of threatened and endangered species have been in place since 1900, in recent years the wildlife black market has seen an unprecedented surge – according to data from the World Wildlife Fund, ivory from more than 2,500 elephants was seized in 2011 alone. Poaching of rhino horns has increased by a staggering 7,700% between 2007 and 2013. Only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, and poachers are causing that number to drop with each passing moment. Without stronger regulation, increasingly rare rhinoceroses, elephants and tigers stand to lose not only their lives, but also perhaps their entire species.
Further still, the black market trade of wildlife parts and derivatives is a very real problem for humans – eco-tourism in Africa accounts for up to 5 percent of the total GDP of several countries, and the inevitable extinction of these rare species if poaching continues at this rate could be disastrous for local economies. Profits from the sale of poached items have also been proven as major sources of funding for organized crime organizations in the region, such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which gained worldwide infamy in 2012 after being featured in a documentary by Invisible Children. In that sense, to address the issue of wildlife trafficking is to address such atrocities around the world.
The bi-partisan bill, introduced by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Edward Royce (R-CA) and the Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), would improve the tools and techniques used to strengthen enforcement, rank the list of countries considered major sources or transit points for wildlife trafficking, strengthen existing anti-wildlife trafficking networks and establish new ones where none exist in countries on every continent. If approved, the bill would place the crime of international wildlife trafficking on the same level of severity as international weapons and drug trafficking.
Additionally, the bill would authorize the Secretaries of State, Commerce and the Interior to compile a list of countries believed to be major sources, major transit points or major consumers of illegal wildlife products and derivatives. If those countries fail to make efforts to adhere to international agreements protecting endangered and threatened species, the Secretary of Interior would be able to withhold aid money from offending nations.
Among other proposed measures, the bill would establish higher standards for professional wildlife law enforcement training and provide insurance to rangers and their families in the rare and tragic case that a ranger is killed in action. The bill would also allow the President to provide security assistance to African countries that are actively engaged in combating poaching and wildlife trafficking.
On Thursday, July 16, the Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy will hear testimonies from conservationists with firsthand experience on the dire situation for endangered wildlife in Africa. Among those making an appeal is Mr. Ian Saunders, Chief Operations Officer for the Tsavo Trust in Kenya. The Tsavo Trust professes an approach of “stabilization through conservation” to the poaching epidemic, seeking to create a local interest in protecting natural resources – working from “the inside out” rather than “the outside in.”
“The basis of what we’re trying to deliver on the ground in Africa is what will be conducive to humans and natural resources,” said Saunders, serving as a panelist during a forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday.
Because poachers are driven by a monetary incentive that is directly a result of few legal career options available for locals in some African countries, organizations like the Tsavo Trust are invested in enriching local communities as an indirect way of combating poaching. In Kenya, Saunders and the Tsavo Trust are leading plans for increased security for natural resources through the Malkahalaku Community Conservancy.
“ISIS and Al-Shabaab are competing for manpower in Central Africa,” said Saunders. “At Malkahalaku, we’re taking people out of dangerous terrorist organizations and giving them new jobs.”
Tigers for Tigers, a national coalition of university students raising awareness around the issue through school mascots, is hosting Global Tiger Day on July 29 in anticipation of the bill’s debate. Tigers for Tigers has also launched a sweeping #WhereRTheTigers social media campaign in an effort to pressure the international community towards meaningful change in poaching policy.
The Tsavo Trust, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Tigers for Tigers stand among countless others united in support of the Global Anti-Poaching Act. Only through maintaining open lines of communication, strengthening anti-trafficking networks and actively enforcing international legislation can we show that the illegal trade of endangered species products will not be tolerated.
For more information on the Global Anti-Poaching Act, click here.