Wildlife poachers, who’ve long averted punishment due to lax regulations, could soon be given penalties on par to criminals who smuggle weapons and narcotics.
H.R. 2494, The Global Anti-Poaching Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote on Wednesday, will aim to finally crack down on international wildlife crime syndicates that illegally kill endangered species and sell their parts on the black market.
The bill, touching on both natural and national security, found rare support from both sides of the aisle in the House, and was co-sponsored by 43 Republicans and 54 Democrats.
The act notes that poachers are as much of a threat to global stability as the animals they hunt, since the sale of wildlife parts can fund terrorist or criminal activity. Ivory from elephant tusks and rhino horn can be more valuable than gold, diamonds, or cocaine, making it a profitable but relatively safe revenue source for violent gangs and militias.
Rep. Ed Royce, the bill’s author and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, predicts wildlife smuggling nets criminals an estimated $10 billion annually. However, traffickers who are caught with contraband are often subjected to nothing more than an interrogation, a fine, or deportation to their home country.
But if H.R. 2494 becomes law, these traffickers wouldn’t get off as easy. Under the act, wildlife trafficking violations where the products have a total value of more than $10,000 would be eligible for offense under the Travel Act, Money Laundering, and RICO statutes, potentially putting wildlife smugglers behind bars alongside organized criminals and drug kingpins.
The act also seeks to improve enforcement by directing money seized from wildlife trafficking organizations to anti-poaching operations, providing much-needed training, technology and manpower to protect endangered species. In addition, H.R. 2494 aims to stamp out corruption in foreign governments by giving the secretary of state the authority to withhold financial assistance from countries who aid or turn a blind eye to poaching.
Wildlife groups applauded the act as a big step forward in ensuring the survival of threatened wildlife. Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President of Wildlife Conservation at World Wildlife Fund, said the legislation “could be a real game changer for the conservation of elephants, rhinos, and countless species illegally killed and traded around the world.”
The Anti-Poaching Act will next go the Senate, where if passed it could be signed into law by the president.