The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar business that is systematically fueling the extinction of countless species of wildlife. However, Leigh Henry, senior policy adviser for the World Wildlife Fund, says that, unfortunately, when it comes to fighting wildlife trafficking, international law has no teeth.
When visiting the National Wildlife Repository, this is incredibly evident. This warehouse is the storage facility for all wildlife items that have been confiscated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Containing over 1.5 million animals, both in parts and whole, this facility is sobering to say the least.
While we might not think of the illegal wildlife trade as being prevalent in the U.S., the reality is the United States is the second largest market for illegal ivory. In 2013 alone, over 20,000 elephants were poached in Africa and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s repository crushed six tons of confiscated ivory.
But it is not just ivory that is the problem. The U.S. ranks among the world’s leading market places for the illegal wildlife trade, writ large. Considering the fact that over the past 40 years alone, nearly 52 percent of the world’s wildlife have been wiped out of existence, we cannot take the role this trade plays in their loss lightly.
Thankfully, this is where the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, comes in. This partnership is a huge trade agreement that is currently being negotiated by the Obama administration with many of the Asia-Pacific nations. Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are all part of this agreement, and the partners hope to eventually include every nation in the Pacific Rim.
If this trade agreement passes, countries found involved in illegal wildlife trafficking will face trade sanctions.
“What we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership is first of all making sure environmental issues are central to the agreement, including things like wildlife trafficking,” says Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative. “And then making them fully enforceable just like any other provision of the trade agreement.”
This is so incredibly important seeing as many of the nations involved in the agreement are responsible for exporting and purchasing illegal wildlife goods.
If the TPP is signed, the U.S. will increase coordination with international law enforcement in the hopes to better customs and border patrol. The goal is that this added security would slow the influx of endangered species coming into our country. Given the billions of confiscated animal parts sitting in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s repository, it is clear that we need to make a change. And for the sake of the future of the world’s most endangered species, that change needs to happen fast.
Image source: Jackie Northam/NPR