The Senate has approved a bill to boost efforts to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking, a growing problem worldwide with an estimated cost of up to $10 billion a year.
The measure is aimed at protecting a variety of animals, from lions, elephants and rhinos to exotic birds and sharks. It supports ongoing work of a presidential task force on wildlife trafficking and directs U.S. agencies to work with countries affected by wildlife crime, such as the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion by an American during an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe. It also gives prosecutors more tools to go after individuals involved in trophy hunting and other crimes.
The measure, sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was approved unanimously late Thursday. The senators have traveled together to several African countries and have pushed for the bill since last year.
Coons said he was disturbed by news reports that African elephant population has shrunk by 30 percent since 2007, primarily due to poaching.
“Not only are iconic wildlife species in grave danger of disappearing, but wildlife trafficking also fuels well-organized criminal networks, threatening global security,” Coons said.
“Imperiled animals are slaughtered for no reason other than money, and innocent human lives are lost in the process. We cannot wait any longer to use every tool at our disposal to curb this global crisis,” he said.
Flake, chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, called the fight against wildlife poaching and trafficking “something on which we can all agree.” He urged the House to approve the bill and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation for the World Wildlife Fund, called the bill “a timely signal to international leaders that the U.S. continues to be serious about cracking down on wildlife crime.”
The bill helps ensure a unified approach by the U.S. government as it works with countries around the word to combat wildlife crime, she said.