Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act a victory for animal welfare | Opinion

Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act.

Aimed at stopping the killing of elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife for commercially valuable parts on the black market, the legislation amends the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to authorize rewards for thwarting wildlife trafficking linked to terrorism and organized crime.

The House passed a nearly identical bill, too, and it will go to President Trump for his signature soon after the House makes a technical fix.

Introduced by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the bill is yet one more victory on animal welfare issues for Oregon’s junior senator.

Recently, Merkley worked with a Republican Congressman from Florida to halt a long-running USDA Agricultural Research Services lab that had been infecting cats with toxoplasmosis and then euthanizing them. That program, resulting in the death of 3,000 kittens and costing taxpayers $22 million, had been running since 1982 purportedly to address foodborne illness issues but not yielding much of any benefit for people or pets.

These days, the common poacher is competing more and more with the militant poacher, killing elephants for their ivory and turning that cash into arms purchases to fund violent crime and even terrorism in far-flung parts of the world.

In the last decade, a number of national security reports have linked the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Janjaweed, and other rogue militias in East Africa to wildlife trafficking to finance larger criminal operations. Indeed, wildlife trafficking is estimated to generate well more than $10 billion in illicit commerce.

They are not just robbing animals of their lives, but also nations of living capital.

Think of the millions who trek to protected areas to catch a glimpse of wildlife, boosting not just the travel, hotel, and food and retail industries, but rural people who sell crafts, act as local guides, and provide other forms of fee-based services, employing men and women in remote areas.

A study by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) compiled figures from government and tour operators throughout the continent found that the industry contributes 80% international travel sales to the continent, a large percentage of the $34.2 billion African tourism industry.

And it’s not just Africa.

Palau in the South Pacific has a tourism economy built around watching marine species. Tiger-watching safaris are big business in India. Even Spain has Iberian Lynx excursions in the Pyrenes. 

In 2016, Oregon voters approved Measure 100, with 70 percent favoring the citizen initiative, to stop the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn, and the parts of 10 of mammalian species at risk from unfettered trade.

Let’s hope the RAWR Act pays out rewards to people who work with law enforcement throughout the world to protect wildlife and people. Our fates have never been bound together more tightly.

And our cause has never been more urgent.