Big things are happening in the world of wildlife preservation. With species like elephants and rhinos on the brink of extinction, and terrorists and transnational organized criminals filling their coffers with the proceeds of wildlife trafficking, the United States Senate is now considering a wildlife crime bill to combat the multi-billion dollar illicit trafficking industry. The Senate should send this bill to President Barack Obama with unanimous consent for the following five reasons.
First, the END Wildlife Trafficking Act, co-sponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), puts wildlife trafficking on par with other transnational organized crime, such as the trafficking of drugs, arms and humans, which are widely recognized as security threats to the United States.
Valued at $8 to $10 billion a year and responsible for the deaths of 20,000 elephants and 1,338 rhinos last year alone, illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illicit industry in the world, financing criminal networks and terrorist groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, al-Shabaab and Sudanese militias. Last month, at a public event in Washington, D.C. Republican Congressman Ed Royce said that al-Shabaab had traded elephant tusks for ammunition that was subsequently used during a terrorist attack that killed 147 people at a university in Kenya. And Gen. Carter Ham (ret.), former Commander of U.S. Africa Command, has cautioned that the magnitude of the challenge could increase due to the deadly combination of high profit potential with policy gaps and on-the-ground capacity shortfalls.
Second, the bill represents a path to holistically address the interconnected challenges that stem from wildlife crime. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are tied to a robust tourism sector. Without the tourist-popular elephants and rhinos, tourism numbers will continue to drop. In Kenya, tourism numbers dropped by 16.9% between January and September in 2015, a country that is home to one of Africa’s most robust ivory trafficking hub in Mombasa.
Third, the legislation provides guidance on capacity building in the field, an issue that is acutely necessary as park rangers are under-equipped and in need of training to fight militarized and heavily armed poachers. Over 1,000 rangers died in the last decade trying to protect the animals. Most recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, three rangers at Garamba wildlife parkwere killed and two more were injured by elephant poachers. Garamba, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is plagued by heavily armed poachers equipped with AK-47s and, in one incident, a PKM belt-fed machine gun.
Fourth, the END Wildlife Trafficking Act suggests a bottom-up approach to technology and innovation, smartly recognizing the technological pitfalls of attempting too much too soon. The basic technological capacity of wildlife parks most susceptible to poaching must be considered first and foremost. A drone is hardly useful to rangers currently relying on flip phones, electrical fences, and manual checks for footprints.
Fifth, the bill ensures the sustainability of President Barack Obama’s 2013 Executive Order to combat wildlife trafficking, and the resulting task force on the issue. Enacting the END Wildlife Trafficking Act would continue the U.S.’ legacy as a global leader in ensuring security against transnational crime and trafficking.
Senators Coons’ and Flake’s bipartisan bill is critical to the growing global response to the poaching and wildlife crime crisis. It deserves unanimous consent because it furthers U.S. national security, development in poorer parts of the world, and it will help preserve some of the world’s most iconic creatures. There is simply nothing to disagree about and the United States Congress should move quickly to send the bill to President Obama for his signature.