WASHINGTON – In recognition of 2019 World Biodiversity Day, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) on Wednesday introduced bipartisan legislation to help save endangered animals by combatting wildlife trafficking and poaching. The Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act would authorize the State Department to offer financial rewards for information that leads to the disruption of wildlife trafficking networks.
The second-biggest threat to the survival of species around the globe is the wildlife trade. A billion-dollar industry, wildlife trafficking leads to the overexploitation of species to the point of extinctions. At the same time, criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations are tapping this lucrative and difficult-to-track market to fund their activities. The RAWR Act would enable the State Department to do more to tackle this insidious and growing threat.
“Does anyone forget the magic on a child’s face seeing an elephant or giraffe or rhino for the first time?” Merkley said. “When the world loses these magnificent animals, we all lose something. The next generation shouldn’t be left just seeing pictures in a book of amazing animals, from before poachers, traffickers, and profiteers killed them all off.”
“Wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime that requires a coordinated and sustained global effort to effectively combat it,” said Collins. “In order to build upon ongoing efforts to deter this illegal activity that harms animals and threatens conservation efforts, this bipartisan bill would allow the State Department to offer rewards for information regarding wildlife traffickers.”
The RAWR Act has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Dina Titus (D-NV).
“Wildlife trafficking persists as a grave threat to endangered animals worldwide,” said Rep. Buchanan. “The RAWR Act would provide another tool to crack down on the billions of dollars generated by this illegal industry. I applaud the bipartisan introduction by Sens. Merkley and Collins and remain optimistic that Congress will soon pass our legislation.”
“International wildlife trafficking decimates endangered species and generates billions of dollars for transnational criminal networks,” said Congresswoman Titus. “This legislation treats wildlife trafficking as the serious crime that it is and helps ensure that elephants, lions, rhinos, and tigers will be protected for generations to come. I’m grateful to Senator Merkley for introducing this legislation in the Senate as we advance our bill in the House.”
While the U.S. State Department has taken meaningful steps in the past to crack down on wildlife trafficking and poaching, more can be done, the lawmakers said.
Current authorities give the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development tools to improve wildlife law enforcement in countries, which have led to the disruption of transport hubs for wildlife trafficking and seizure of more than 4.4 tons of illegal ivory and rhino horns. By giving the State Department another tool to combat wildlife trafficking, the RAWR Act improves upon existing structures to stop criminal organizations from exploiting rare and endangered wildlife.
Supporters of the RAWR Act include the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Oregon Zoo.
“Wildlife trafficking is an epidemic that threatens extinction for iconic species including elephants, rhinos, and tigers,” said Kate Wall, Senior Legislative Manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “As the fourth most lucrative illegal enterprise worldwide, it also contributes to global corruption and instability. IFAW applauds Sens. Merkley and Collins for their leadership of the RAWR Act, which would aid law enforcement in identifying and apprehending criminal wildlife trafficking networks.”
“Not only does wildlife trafficking fuel the decline of some of the world’s most iconic species, it also underpins international organized crime and terrorism. The RAWR Act would ensure that wildlife trafficking remains on the list of activities targeted by the State Department’s rewards program, providing a permanent tool to fight this pernicious and destructive crime. We thank Senators Merkley and Collins for introducing this bill, and in so doing continuing their leadership in fighting wildlife trafficking,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
“The Wildlife Conservation Society commends Senator Merkley and Senator Collins for their leadership in reintroducing the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act to crack down on wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking finances organized criminal syndicates undermining rule of law in foreign countries and threatening our national security. The legislation re-introduced in the Senate today provides rewards in return for information and tips on trafficking in endangered wildlife, thereby protecting our natural security,” said Kelly Keenan Aylward, Washington Office Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Illegal wildlife trade is not just a conservation issue. The shocking scale of poaching we are witnessing today is intertwined with violent militias, organized crime, and government corruption. We need every tool at our disposal to fight the scourge of wildlife trafficking, which has dire consequences for local communities, US national security, and the survival of imperiled species. The RAWR Act provides a crucial reward-based incentive for combating the transitional criminal networks that use wildlife products to fund their operations,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking is a critical conservation concern for species ranging from parrots to elephants, and a threat to global security,” said Dr. Don Moore, Oregon Zoo director. “The RAWR Act will give our country an important tool to take action worldwide in the fight against extinction.”
“Wildlife trafficking is not only devastating wildlife populations around the globe, it is also financing criminal syndicates to the tune of billions of dollars a year. By clearly defining wildlife trafficking as a transnational organized crime and treating it with the seriousness that designation requires, the RAWR Act can be a powerful tool to help break up the illicit networks driving this lucrative illegal trade. The bill introduced by Senators Merkley and Collins and Representatives Buchanan and Titus represents another important step in Congress’ efforts to protect our planet’s threatened wildlife and combat wildlife crime,” said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation, World Wildlife Fund (WWF).