Sep 15 2016
Washington—The Senate today unanimously passed legislation based on the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act, a bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to help law enforcement crack down on poachers and transnational criminal organizations by strengthening penalties for wildlife trafficking.
The legislation, included in the END Wildlife Trafficking Act sponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), allows the federal government to seek stronger penalties by prosecuting high-value criminal violations of wildlife trafficking laws using the money laundering statute. Violation prosecuted under this authority would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Currently, violations of most wildlife trafficking laws carry a maximum one-year sentence and lower fines, which provide little deterrence to would-be poachers.
“High demand and weak penalties for wildlife trafficking has helped push many iconic species to the brink of extinction,” said Senator Feinstein. “No longer will criminals receive just a slap on the wrist for engaging in this repugnant trade. Our bill finally gives law enforcement tools necessary to go after poachers and criminal enterprises that are illegally profiting at the expense of endangered species.”
Wildlife trafficking ranks among the top five global crimes, generating an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion in illicit funds annually. There is also increasing evidence that wildlife trafficking is funding armed insurgencies like Al Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Janjaweed, which threaten the stability and security of Africa.
Wildlife trafficking poses an immediate threat to global elephant and rhinoceros populations due to the high demand for ivory in China and the United States. African elephants are now being poached faster than the species can reproduce. In South Africa, rhino poaching has increased by more than 9,000 percent in the past decade.