Congressman Ted Lieu on the Importance of Protecting Our Wildlife

June 2, 2018
Opinion: Op-Eds

I was dismayed when I learned that the world’s only male northern white rhinoceros, Sudan, died on March 19. Sudan was the last of a sub-species of the White Rhinoceros, which is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species. Now, two female northern white rhinos are the last of their kind on this planet. It is troubling knowing that, despite our best efforts in conservation and animal science, we are struggling to protect endangered wildlife. The nearing end of the northern white rhino should come as a wake-up call. We share our planet with other wonderful creatures, and it is up to us to be responsible environmental stewards. As the survival of certain species becomes increasingly threatened by a changing environment and human activity, we must support policies and programs to promote wildlife conservation, both at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is taking us backwards when it comes to protecting animals. In March, the Trump Administration decided to lift the ban on importing sport-hunted elephant trophies, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is currently reviewing importation permits on a case by case basis. President Trump’s baffling decision is likely to encourage hunting of precious animals. Instead of leading global efforts to combat poaching and over-hunting, the Trump administration is setting back conservation efforts by miles. That is why Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and I introduced the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies (ProTECT) Act. The legislation would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prohibit trophy hunting any endangered or threatened species of fish and wildlife in the United States and bans the importation of trophy hunted endangered species or threatened species of fish and wildlife.

I also appreciate and recognize the importance of enforcement efforts in combatting wildlife trafficking, which is why for the past two years, I have requested that the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee provide robust funding for the USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), an enforcement authority within the USFWS responsible for investigating wildlife trafficking crimes. I have pushed to have more resources allocated to UWFWS’s Wildlife Detector Program, which is integral to employing trained canines at ports of entry across the country to inspect packages for illegal wildlife products.

Like elephants, many endangered and threatened species are aggressively hunted for their skin and other body parts to sell on the black market. Worth an estimated $10 billion annually, the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is carried out by highly organized transnational criminal networks that connect poachers around the world. These networks often feed into networks of other illicit activities such as drug trafficking. Accordingly, the growing poaching crisis poses a serious national security threat. Now more than ever, it is critical that the U.S. lead the charge in disincentivizing the demand for elephant ivory, rhino horns, lion bones, and other wildlife products.

The vast majority of Americans would agree: there is no sound argument for hunting endangered and threatened species. Champions of this inhumane practice argue that hunting helps with conservation efforts by providing resources to conservation groups. In practice, that is not the case. The so-called trophy hunting fees generated by hunting exhibitions seldom flows into local communities or wildlife conservation initiatives. We have to be as compassionate as we are strategic when it comes to prohibiting the hunting of endangered species. Fueling the trade of trophies, ivory, and horns is selfish as much as it is cruel. Our environment is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and sacred wonders and we have a duty to do all we can to protect it.

While Congress has its hands full these days, efforts to conserve wildlife and combat wildlife trafficking must remain a priority. Protecting our planet and its animals is our moral duty