Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act, led by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. The measure aims to end the killing of elephants, rhinoceros, apes and other protected wildlife for valuable parts such as ivory tusks, and horns, and even skulls on the black market.
Wildlife trafficking is a major transnational crime that is estimated to generate over $10 billion a year in illegal profits, and the drivers of the enterprise are often organized, sophisticated criminals, including known terrorist organizations. Wildlife trafficking not only threatens endangered species worldwide, but also jeopardizes local security, spreads disease, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption and damages economic development.
If signed into law, the RAWR Act would amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to authorize rewards for thwarting wildlife trafficking linked to terrorism and organized crime. Led by U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Florida, and Dina Titus, D-Nevada, in the House, that chamber passed a similar companion measure back in July and it will be sent to the President Donald Trump to be inked into law soon after the House makes a slight technical change so the bills are identical.
The RAWR Act is yet one more victory on animal welfare issues for Maine’s Republican senator, and the first animal protection legislation to pass the Senate in 2019. Recently, Collins joined in leading the charge to maintain the de facto ban on horse slaughter that passed the full Senate last week in the Agriculture appropriations package, and she cosponsored the Horseracing Integrity Act to end the rampant doping that’s plagued American horseracing for decades. One of her biggest accomplishments last year — adding an amendment to the Farm bill to ban dogfighting and cockfighting everywhere in the U.S. — was just upheld by a U.S. District Court after a challenge by cockfighting clubs operating in Puerto Rico.
In 2019, the common poacher is competing more and more with the militant poacher, killing elephants and rhinos for their ivory and converting the cash from the sale of ivory into arms purchases to fund violent crime and terrorism around the globe. In the last decade, a number of national security reports have linked the Janjaweed, Lord’s Resistance Army, and other rogue mercenaries in East Africa to wildlife trafficking to finance larger criminal acts.
Terrorists are not just robbing animals of their lives, but also nations of living assets. Millions of tourists travel to protected areas to view and photograph wildlife, boosting not just travel, hotel, and food and retail dollars, but poor rural folks who sell crafts, serve as local tour guides and provide other forms of services that bring in revenue, employing men and women in third-world countries.
A study by the United Nations World Tourism Organization compiled figures from government and tour operators throughout Africa and found that the ecotourism industry contributes 80 percent of the international travel sales to the continent, a large percentage of the $34.2 billion African tourism industry.
Furthermore, 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 Pyrenees.
We applaud Collins for offering a creative way to crack down on these international crimes throughout the world to protect wildlife and people and are grateful for her tremendous leadership on animal protection issues across the board. Mainers are fortunate to have her looking out for their best interests, and so are the animals.
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.