A recently introduced bill is a nationwide call to arms in the global war against poaching.
The END Wildlife Trafficking Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coon (D-Del.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would create a specialized task force to work with countries affected by wildlife crime and help them create a "strategic plan."
If the bill is passed, U.S. agencies would be permitted to help countries strengthen their law enforcement response and help crack down on wildlife trafficking. The task force would have to submit an annual report to Congress recording their progress.
The bill would also call upon the secretary of state to work with China, the largest market for illegal animal parts, to eliminate their own wildlife trade. It also asks the secretary to begin negotiations with Thailand and Vietnam aimed at reducing their demand for rhino horn and other wildlife products.
The United States may seem far from the poaching epidemic sweeping Africa, or the black markets in Asia that fuel the demand for ivory and rhino horn. But the U.S. is actually the second biggest market in the world for wildlife products, and lawmakers have lately felt a growing responsibility to take action.
In the last two years, the U.S. has deployed marines to Gabon to train rangers on how to combat ivory trafficking and helped strengthen custom and border inspection in Costa Rica. In 2013, Obama also issued an executive order to create a task force aimed at combating the illegal wildlife trade.
The multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade is highly organized, often involving international crime syndicates that operate alongside drug and weapon traffickers. Because of its lucrative rewards but relatively low risk of punishment, the wildlife trade has attracted criminals from all backgrounds and in some cases can even fund terrorist groups.
The need to eliminate the wildlife trade for both national and natural security reasons has gained the attention of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. In November, at the urging of conservation groups, the House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act, which would punish wildlife traffickers as harshly as gun and drug smugglers.
In a press release, Johan Bergenas, Senior Associate at the nonprofit Stimson Center, applauded the bill's bipartisan approach to tackling several issues of the wildlife trade.
"It would give more tools to fight back against those who want to hurt us and our allies, while simultaneously helping to save the world's most magnificent animals from extinction," Bergenas said.
The END Wildlife Trafficking Act also received support from several other prominent conservation groups, including the African Wildlife Foundation, the Humane Society of the United States, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.