Washington—President Obama today signed legislation that included provisions of 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 provisions, 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.
“I was emboldened after reading in National Geographic that poachers were using assault weapons to kill 50 elephants at a time just for their tusks,” said Senator Feinstein. “This repugnant trade flourished because weak penalties provided little deterrence for poachers and traffickers. Law enforcement can now aggressively go after the criminals profiting off the death 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 killed for their ivory faster than the species can reproduce. In South Africa, rhino poaching has increased by more than 9,000 percent in the past decade.