Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today announced introduction of the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act, which would help law enforcement crack down on poachers and transnational criminal organizations by strengthening penalties for wildlife trafficking.
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 the most immediate threat to the African elephant, which is being poached faster than it can reproduce. More than 20,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2013, according to estimates from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. High demand for ivory in the United States and China has also contributed to the increased poaching of juvenile elephants.
“Wildlife trafficking is a repugnant crime, and addressing this issue speaks to our values as a society. If we don’t act, trafficking will result in the extinction of the world’s most iconic species, including the African elephant,” said Senator Feinstein. “High demand and weak penalties have allowed poachers and criminal organizations to thrive, and the federal government needs strong enforcement tools to reduce the illegal wildlife trade.”
“This legislation will make a difference in protecting some of the most endangered species in the world, and at the same time damage a funding stream for terrorists and criminals,” said Senator Graham. “We need tougher penalties and stronger enforcement to reduce the illegal wildlife trade. I hope and expect this bipartisan legislation will receive overwhelming support in the Congress.”
The bill would allow the federal government to prosecute a criminal violation of the Endangered Species Act, the African Elephant Conservation Act or the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act using the money laundering or racketeering statutes or the Travel Act. Violations prosecuted under these new authorities would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 dollars. Currently, violations of most wildlife trafficking laws carry a maximum one-year sentence and lower fines, which provide little deterrence to would-be poachers.
The bill has been endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund.