On May 8, 2018, Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and Don Young (R-AK), introduced H.R. 5697, the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act (WCATA) of 2018. The bipartisan bill will “support wildlife conservation, improve anti-trafficking enforcement, [and] provide dedicated funding for wildlife conservation at no expense to the taxpayer.” It includes critical whistleblower provisions necessary to incentivize informants to risk their careers (or their lives) to report trafficking.
In a series of blog posts over the next several weeks, the National Whistleblower Center will explain why this bill is so crucial for preserving wildlife and such a powerful tool for combatting international criminal syndicates.
We will begin this series by explaining why this bill is necessary. In future posts, we’ll explain why H.R. 5697 “is the most important anti-trafficking legislation of our generation.” For the remainder of this post though, we’ll look at the catastrophic problem that this bill is seeking to fix: the extinction of many of the globe’s most treasured living creatures.
The Ugly Numbers
The world is currently confronting its sixth mass extinction. Plant and animal species are going extinct by the thousands each year. Humans are directly responsible for the extinctions and near-extinctions of a number of treasured species, including elephants, rhinoceroses, and tigers due to poaching and habitat degradation. Humans are not killing these animals for subsistence, but because, for example, wildlife products make nice trinkets or are wrongly thought to cure hangovers.
Earlier this year, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy announced the death of the last male Northern White Rhino named Sudan. His subspecies is now doomed to extinction. Shortly after Sudan’s death, the conservancy posted on its Facebook page that the “onus is on us to ensure that rhino populations thrive across the planet”, demonstrating the importance of saving rhino populations in light of their rapid population declines. At the forefront of factors contributing to rhino deaths is poaching. In 2007, only 13 rhinos in South Africa died by means of poaching, but by 2014, this number had jumped to 1215 rhino deaths, a 9000% increase in 7 years.
Elephants, renowned for their intelligence and empathy, are being killed by poachers looking to harvest their ivory. In a three-year period, 100,000 elephants have been killed by poachers, contributing to central Africa’s 64 percent elephant decline in the past decade.
Big cat species have been absolutely decimated as well. In China and Vietnam, tiger penises are falsely thought to be useful as medicine, while their claws are considered status symbols. Poachers across Asia are hunting tigers. The wild tiger population is down to about 4,000. Leopards, on the other hand, are poached for their spotted fur and in India alone, an average of four leopards have been poached each week, equating to approximately 2,000 leopards in the last decade.
The drastic decrease in the leopard population has not made life easier for some of its prey. Humans have filled the void, and then some. The world’s tallest mammal, the giraffe, is killed for just one small body part, its tail. They are considered a status symbol in some communities and sometimes offered as a dowry to the bride’s father before marriage and are also used as fly whisks and good-luck bracelets. However, such traditions are enabling poachers to wipe out giraffe populations, contributing to the species’ 40% population decrease in 15 years.
Gorillas are homo sapiens’ fellow primate and we share about 98% of the same DNA. But this has not protected them from the poaching pandemic. Adult gorillas are poached for their meat and other body parts, which are subsequently turned into medicine and charms. Although the extent of the damage brought by poaching is difficult to measure for gorillas, an undercover investigation in the Kouilou region of Congo estimates that 4% of the Kouilou gorilla population is being killed every month. This will halve the Kouilou gorilla population each year.
Worldwide 23,000 species are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. More than 40% of amphibians and 25% of mammals are in danger of going extinct.
Where We Go From Here
No one solution can stop the mass extinction crisis. But without effective enforcement of the wildlife trafficking laws, numerous species are doomed to extinction. There are three essential pillars for combatting wildlife trafficking: (1) utilizing and incentivizing wildlife whistleblowers, (2) granting law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to go after the transnational criminal syndicates responsible for wildlife trafficking, and (3) providing additional funds to conservation funds that safeguard these threatened species.
WCATA proposes all of the above. In the posts to follow, we will take a more in-depth look at H.R. 5697 and explain why it could be a true game-changer for many species on the verge of extinction.
Even as species disappear by the thousands, there are thousands of people within the U.S. alone who have demonstrated public support to protect wildlife. The National Whistleblower Center has already gathered nearly 10,000 signatures in support of H.R. 5697. Join the movement.