Congress has taken an important step toward cracking down on wildlife trafficking. On November 2, the House of Representatives passed HR 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act, introduced by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engle (D-NY). Aimed at curbing the rampant illegal wildlife trade that is devastating populations of elephants, rhinos, and other imperiled species, the bill contains several provisions to strengthen the hand of law enforcement. Among other things, HR 2494 would (1) make penalties for smuggling or selling endangered species equivalent to penalties for weapons and drug trafficking, (2) expand law enforcement networks and facilitate partnerships between the United States and other countries for fighting terrorist groups and international crime syndicates that use the profits from wildlife trafficking to fuel dangerous activities, and (3) direct the State Department to explicitly identify countries that are major sources, transit points, or consumers of trafficked wildlife products. A Senate companion bill, S 27, also enjoys strong bipartisan support and, as we go to press, awaits a vote.
This victory, however, sounded a discordant note with the last-minute inclusion of language stating “that lawful, well regulated hunting can contribute to sustainability and economic development, and that enforcement policies should not discourage or impede this activity.” This language fails to recognize that legal hunting provides cover for the illegal activities this bill is intended to eradicate and that we should be encouraging the countries whose wildlife is under pressure to develop more nonlethal ways to benefit from their natural resources. With several stand-alone bills before Congress extolling hunting, this statement, which undermines the purpose of HR 2494, hardly seems necessary or wise.