By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
The trade in live wild animals and their body parts threatens the survival of so many wildlife species, and it poses serious global security and public health risks. In a one-two punch targeting this international crisis, members of Congress have introduced bills that would bolster our nation’s ability to fight poaching and trafficking, and support U.S efforts to engage diplomatically with other nations to end the sales of live and fresh wildlife for human consumption.
The Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvements Act of 2020, S.4848, introduced last week by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would permanently authorize and expand a current law aimed at ending poaching and wildlife trafficking. The United States is one of the world’s largest markets and throughfares for wild animals and their body parts, and the 2016 law has already been effective in helping capture wildlife traffickers. It is more critical now than ever that our nation strengthens the law further so we can continue on this path of progress.
Among other measures, the bill would allow the continuation of a key presidential task force made up of more than 14 federal agencies and offices, which implements our national strategy to fight wildlife trafficking by reducing demand, strengthening law enforcement efforts, and building international cooperation in tackling this issue. The task force is set to dissolve in 2021, unless it is reauthorized.
The bill would also increase U.S. focus on the online trade in wildlife—an area that has seen a surge in recent years. Increasingly, traffickers are using social media and other online platforms, which allow them to hide in plain sight behind avatars, to market live wild animals and animal body parts, connect with and negotiate sales with buyers, and receive payments.
The second bill, the Global Wildlife Trade Biosecurity Act, H.R.8678, was introduced by Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. This bill would authorize and fund a global diplomatic effort, led by the United States, to work toward a ban on the commercial trade in live and fresh wildlife for human consumption, including such sales in markets and restaurants. The bill would help facilitate a number of reforms through new inter-agency coordination mechanisms. Initiatives would include increased research on zoonotic diseases (which jump from animals to humans), helping communities in developing countries that rely on fresh wildlife to thrive by improving nutritional choices and outcomes, and protecting critical wildlife areas. It would also bolster support for governments that end such commercial trade and close wildlife markets.
There are so many reasons why we need to end sales of wild animals for human consumption and the pandemic has added to the urgency. When wild animals are kept in cruel, confined conditions, pathogens breed freely and often jump to consumers and others involved in handling them during transport and slaughter. Allowing legal commercial trade in wildlife is also problematic as this is often used as a cover for the illegal trade in live wildlife and/or their parts. Moreover, wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar illicit industry run by transnational organized criminal syndicates which fund other illicit activities like the trade in arms, drugs, human trafficking and terrorism. Wildlife trafficking syndicates are largely responsible for driving so many wildlife species close to extinction, including pangolins, tigers, rhinos, sharks and elephants.
Please join us in this fight by contacting your federal lawmakers. Ask them to support the END Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvements Act and the Global Wildlife Trade Biosecurity Act and get them passed without delay. These bills would help our nation push forward and position itself as a global leader in this important fight against a nefarious trade that is taking an increasingly greater toll each day on both humans and animals.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.