Last year, Steve Kohn informed the world about dormant whistleblower provisions in wildlife protection laws that, if activated, would effectively combat wildlife trafficking. While several branches of the U.S. government have committed to addressing trafficking activities that have pushed many iconic species such as tigers and elephants to the brink of extinction, federal agencies have yet to use all the tools available to them in this fight.

In October 2016, Congress passed the END Wildlife Trafficking Act which codified President Obama’s Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking, as well as the National Strategy and Implementation Plan that were developed under the Order. The END Wildlife Trafficking Act proclaims U.S. law and policy to emphasize:

  1. Taking immediate actions to stop the illegal global trade in wildlife and wildlife products and associated transnational crime;
  1. Employing U.S. Government resources to curtail poaching and dismantle illegal wildlife trade networks; and
  1. Building upon the National Strategy and Implementation Plan to further combat wildlife trafficking in a holistic manner, and guide the response of the U.S. Government to ensure progress in the fight against wildlife trafficking.

Matching Congress’s bold vision for combating wildlife trafficking, President Trump issued an Executive Order that rallied U.S. law enforcement efforts to thwart wildlife trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. A robust wildlife whistleblower program would enable the U.S. government to quickly and efficiently pursue its policy goals by utilizing existing whistleblower tools that have been very effective in improving detection of a wide range of illegal activity.

Whistleblowers and Ocean Pollution

The whistleblower program under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) is a particularly good model for a wildlife whistleblower program because both programs target activities with international implications that occur in clandestine spaces and harm global resources. Furthermore, both contribute to the implementation of international treaties (CITES for endangered wildlife, and MARPOL for ocean pollution) and the whistleblowers are often non-U.S. citizens.

Effectively harnessing the power of whistleblowers under APPS has made the U.S. the number one country to enforce international obligations under the MARPOL convention. The Lacey Act and other related wildlife laws could be just as effective as APPS if authorities utilized the available whistleblower reward provisions.

Despite the existence of a strong framework to combat wildlife trafficking by incentivizing and empowering whistleblowers to report crime, the responsible agencies—which include the Secretaries of Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and Treasury—have not acted to unlock the power of whistleblowers to protect wildlife. The Secretaries have strong, bipartisan mandates to end wildlife trafficking, while having powerful whistleblower provisions, and a model framework for supporting international whistleblowers.

Continued complacency by the four Secretaries and their agencies is a guaranteed recipe for extinction for elephants, tigers, and rhinos, and other endangered species. Read the NWC Policy Summary to learn about the six steps that these agencies must take immediately to fight global wildlife trafficking.


Further Reading

Whistleblower Graphs

Wall Street Journal CFTC Hands out First Major Whistleblower Award

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS)


National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife Whistleblower FAQ

END Wildlife Trafficking Act

President Trump’s Executive Summary

Barack Obama’s Executive Order on Wildlife Trafficking

Nobody Likes a Rat

Justice Department Recovers Nearly $5 Billion in False Claims Act Cases in Fiscal Year 2012

IRS Whistleblower Program Memorandum (signed by DCSE)

Grassley FCA Testimony April 2016

ERC_Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Misconduct

DOJ Fraud Stats

DOJ 2011 civil division Budget Justification

Department of Justice FY 2012 Budget Request

Assistant AG West Testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee

Assistant AG Stuart Delery – ABA 10th National Institute on the Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement

AG Holder – 25th Anniversary of the False Claims Act Amendments of 1986

Acting Assistant AG Delery – American Bar Association’s Ninth National Institute on the Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement

S. Rep 110-507 (FCA)

S. Rep 99-345 (FCA)

SEC Chair Testimony on “Oversight of the SEC’s Agenda, Operations and FY 2015 Budget Request”

University of Toronto_Who Blows the Whistle on Corporate Fraud