Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced Wednesday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which he serves, has passed his bipartisan Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act.
The RAWR Act, co-led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), would help save endangered animals by combating wildlife trafficking and poaching. Specifically, the legislation would authorize the State Department to offer financial rewards for information that leads to the disruption of wildlife trafficking networks. The legislation is also co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Tom Udall (D-NM).
“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 a piece of our humanity and our shared history on this planet. The next generation shouldn’t be left just seeing these magnificent animals in pictures in a book, from before poachers, traffickers, and profiteers killed them all off. It’s good news for animal lovers around the world that the RAWR Act is moving forward, and I’ll keep pushing on all fronts to confront the scourge of wildlife poaching and trafficking.”
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 over-exploitation 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.
The RAWR Act is supported by a wide range of environmental and animal welfare groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Whistleblower Center, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International, NRDC, African Wildlife Foundation, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Wildlife Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Oregon Zoo.
“Wildlife trafficking not only threatens our most treasured species with extinction, it is part of a transnational crime problem that threatens all of us,” said National Whistleblower Center Executive Director John Kostyack. “The RAWR Act is a critical step toward reining in this growing problem. It provides the whistleblower incentives and protections that are so desperately needed for prosecuting crime around the world. Congress should move quickly to pass this law before the criminal networks get an even stronger toehold and our natural heritage is lost forever.”
“Wildlife trafficking not only threatens the welfare and survival of our world’s most vulnerable species, but it also threatens our national security as a significant funding source for terrorist groups and other illicit trafficking syndicates,” said Humane Society Legislative Fund President Sara Amundson. “The RAWR Act tells the world that the U.S. will not stand for this and gives the Dept. of State the tools they need to stamp out the highly lucrative wildlife trafficking enterprise. We commend the leadership of Senators Jeff Merkley and Susan Collins for seeking to end this illegal wildlife trade and urge swift passage of this bill in the Senate.”
“The Wildlife Conservation Society commends Senator Merkley and Senator Collins for championing the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act to crack down on wildlife trafficking,” said Washington Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society Kelly Keenan Aylward. “Wildlife trafficking finances organized criminal syndicates undermining rule of law in foreign countries and threatening our national security. The legislation marked up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today provides rewards in return for information and tips on trafficking in endangered wildlife, thereby protecting our natural security.”
“Wildlife trafficking is decimating animal populations,” said Association of Zoos and Aquariums President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Ashe. “Rewarding individuals who help catch criminals is another essential tool for law enforcement to use in cracking down on the organized criminal syndicates profiting from this gruesome trade. We have to take every step we can to protect wildlife and punish those who are profiting from extinction. With strong leadership from Senators Merkley and Collins, we can be hopeful that the Senate will follow the House’s lead and swiftly pass the RAWR Act.”
“IFAW applauds the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for voting to advance the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act today, and thanks Sens. Merkley and Collins for their leadership of this important bill,” said Senior Legislative Manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare Kate Wall. “RAWR encourages people with knowledge of illicit wildlife trafficking activities to come forward with their information, providing an important tool to combat illegal poaching and protect wildlife around the world.”
Following committee passage, the next step for the bill would be a vote of the full Senate.