Every day, park rangers and conservationists like Wayne Lotter, of PAMS Foundation Tanzania, risk their lives to fight against global wildlife trafficking. Too often, their stories end in tragedy. Over 1,000 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 10 years. And last week, Lotter was shot and killed in Tanzania. These killings send a chilling message to anyone who dares to expose the criminals exploiting plants, fish, and animals all over the world.
Such acts of violence will never deter the courageous people who have dedicated their lives to protecting endangered species. However, these deadly consequences often silence friends, neighbors, colleagues- all potential whistleblowers- who have information about trafficking activities and want to help save wildlife from the extinction crisis they face today. A powerful force is needed to overcome the silence induced by violence.
Protecting Wildlife Crime Whistleblowers
A whistleblower program can provide the protections and incentives necessary to enable whistleblowers to report wildlife crime in the face of potentially lethal consequences. When properly implemented, a whistleblower program offers confidentiality and sometimes even anonymity to secure whistleblowers’ identities from discovery.
Financial rewards not only compensate whistleblowers for the risks they undertake to report their information to the government, but also represent the value that whistleblower information brings to enforcement efforts.
“Without people finding the courage to report trafficking activity, it is almost impossible for law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Whether the trafficking is in humans, drugs, or animals, underground criminal networks operate in secrecy and through corruption. News about the payment of rewards encourages other whistleblowers, and sometimes even criminals themselves, to step forward and share crucial knowledge with the government.
Dormant Laws Must Be Activated
U.S. wildlife protection laws have contained whistleblower provisions for over 30 years, but not one of the 4 federal agencies (Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and Treasury) that has the ability to pay rewards to wildlife whistleblowers has taken any steps to create a formal program for whistleblowers, or publicized these powerful incentives. The current extinction crisis requires full use of every tool at our disposal if we are to save iconic species like tigers, rhinos, elephants, and countless marine life.
We might not be able to prevent the deadly consequences of standing up for wildlife, but we can offer a safer alternative for reporting wildlife crime. A robust wildlife whistleblower program will empower people to conquer the violent intimidation tactics of traffickers and pursue justice for wildlife.