Silver Spring, MD, Jan. 30, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced its support for the “Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act” (H.R.864)  introduced by U.S. Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK). This legislation would enhance the fight against wildlife trafficking by strengthening federal enforcement against poachers, traffickers, and the global trade in illegal wildlife and seafood products.  It also would engage whistleblowers in the fight to bring down global trafficking rings, and it would provide dedicated funding for wildlife conservation at no expense to American taxpayers.

 

AZA acquired the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) in 2018 in a joint effort to combat wildlife trafficking around the world. In addition to the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® (SAFE) program, WTA offers AZA-accredited facilities another opportunity to join a broader coalition to protect animals in the wild via three main pillars: (1) leverage expertise and influence to strengthen legislation, regulation, policy and enforcement; (2) help to change individual behavior to eliminate purchasing and consumption that drives illegal trade of wildlife; and (3) enhance the visibility and effectiveness of AZA institutions as leaders in combatting wildlife trafficking.

 

“AZA and its members have been leaders in the fight against wildlife trafficking for years, so supporting the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act is an easy decision,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the AZA. “Together with the WTA, AZA will work closely with Representatives Garamendi and Young to promote sponsorship and passage of this important legislation.”

 

Illicit wildlife trafficking is one of the top five transnational organized crimes, a multibillion-dollar illegal trade that is increasingly dominated by international criminal networks with connections to militant groups and organizations with terrorist ties. Domestically, the influx of illegally trafficked animals into the U.S. has led to increasing pressures on federal and state law enforcement agencies, Customs and Border Patrol, and port authorities to find, confiscate and place seized wildlife specimens.  Most of these seizures end in either euthanasia of the animals or placement in AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.  AZA members expend tremendous human and financial resources to accommodate these seizures.

 

 

Key provisions of the bill include:

•  Strengthening enforcement by making serious wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses under federal racketeering and anti-organized crime laws (RICO and Travel Acts).

•  Providing monetary incentives for whistleblowers to come forward and provide actionable intelligence on global wildlife trafficking rings.

•  Directing federal agencies to finally implement authorities provided by current law to reward whistleblowers for wildlife crimes like trafficking, poaching, and black-market imports.

•  Authorizing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to station law enforcement officials and agency personnel abroad in high-intensity wildlife trafficking areas, as embeds in American embassies and consulates.

•  Directing any penalties, fines, forfeitures, and restitution paid to the U.S. government for criminal violations of the federal organized crime, racketeering, and money laundering statutes to support wildlife conservation efforts, at no expense to American taxpayers.

•  Improving the Great Ape and Marine Turtle Conservation Funds, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

•  Making serious violations for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign vessels or fraudulent seafood imports into the United States a predicate offense under the federal money laundering criminal law. According to the U.S. State Department, IUU fishing often goes hand-in-hand with transnational organized crime, human rights abuses such as human trafficking and forced labor, and weapons and drug trafficking.

 

AZA looks forward to working to develop new solutions and funding mechanisms to address the disposition of seized wildlife.  It is AZA’s hope additional support for U.S. port authorities will bolster current time and resources spent on wildlife confiscation operations.

 

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

 

About Wildlife Trafficking Alliance 

The Wildlife Trafficking Alliance is a coalition of more than sixty nonprofit organizations, companies, foundations and media interests working together to combat wildlife trafficking by raising public awareness, reducing consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products, and mobilizing companies to adopt best practices stop wildlife trafficking. AZA acquired the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance in 2018 as a strategic union to combat wildlife trafficking worldwide. To learn more, visit www.wildlifetraffickingalliance.org

 

Rob Vernon
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
301-244-3352
Rvernon@aza.org