Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A House committee today approved four key pieces of animal protection and conservation legislation to alleviate threats faced by some of the world’s most iconic and at-risk species, including a bill that would end harmful public contact activities with big cats, another that would crack down on the shark fin trade in the United States, one that would continue a critical conservation funding source, and a bill that would restrict the import of the body parts of endangered and threatened large animals killed overseas by trophy hunters.

Photo by Vanessa Mignon

We applaud lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who voted in favor of these bills, showing how deeply Americans care about ending our country’s role in some of the worst wildlife abuses faced by animals here in the United States and globally.

The bills, detailed below, will next move to the full House floor for a vote.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act: This bill would ban the possession of big cat species by unlicensed individuals and entities and prohibit their use in businesses that exploit them by forcing them to participate in tourist activities. In the United States, many big cats—such as lions and tigers—are owned by unqualified individuals at roadside exhibits and shoddy circuses as well as by pet owners. As past HSUS investigations have revealed, the animals are bred indiscriminately and often spend their lives in inhumane, unregulated, abusive conditions. They are typically used for tourist opportunities like selfies and cub petting, and are discarded (even slaughtered for parts) after they grow big. As we have seen only too often, wild animals held in these types of situations often escape, creating a major safety hazard for citizens and for local law enforcement officials who are not typically trained to manage big cat escapes.

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act: This bill would prohibit the import, export, trade, distribution, and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades because of this trade. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia but the sharks suffer terribly: fishermen slice off their fins and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. It is important we end the trade in shark fins here because the United States is an end market and transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act: This bill would substantially restrict the import and hunting of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It’s named after the beloved African lion Cecil, who was shot by an American trophy hunter in 2015, sparking global outrage. Trophy hunting is exacerbating population declines of key species who already face extinction and many other threats besides, including poaching and habitat loss. This practice of killing wild and at-risk animals for bragging rights is hurting local economies in African countries by crippling their tourism industries and other opportunities for economic development. We also know that trophy hunting fuels other evils, like corruption and wildlife trafficking, and it’s time the United States cracked down on it.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This bill extends the sale of the Save Vanishing Species Semipostal Stamp for as long as copies remain. This congressionally-created semipostal stamp enables consumers to support wildlife conservation every time they send a letter. To date, sales of the stamp have raised $5.4 million for international conservation of some of the world's most imperiled species, such as elephants, tigers, and sea turtles. Funds have supported more than 100 conservation projects in 35 countries, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Although about 50 million stamps remain in stock, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued selling them at the end of 2018 and can't resume sales until enactment of this reauthorization.

We are grateful for the leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for bringing these four bills to the committee’s attention, and we’ll be pushing for their passage on the House floor next. We want to ensure all four of these bills have a high cosponsor count before they go to the floor for a vote, so please contact your Representative today and urge them to cosponsor these important pieces of legislation.