By Fred Koontz, Gary Geddes
With each passing day, some of our planet’s most rare and iconic animal species are being pushed closer to the brink of extinction. Poachers, acting on behalf of sophisticated international criminal networks, slaughter these animals by the hundreds for one purpose — to fuel a highly lucrative and destructive black market trade for products such as elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn.
As thousands of Washington state residents already know, there is no time to waste in this race against extinction — nearly 350,000 people signed Initiative 1401 to put it on the Nov. 3 ballot. The initiative would strengthen state laws against trafficking in products made from animals threatened with extinction.
Passage of Initiative 1401 is crucial. In 2012 alone, 30,000 African elephants were illegally slaughtered for their tusks. Fewer than 3,500 rhinos are left in the wild in Asia; only 25,000 remain in Africa. Fully 97 percent of the world’s tiger population has disappeared over the last century. Yet despite these shocking statistics, the kill rate for these species and many others continues to rise. Illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth largest transnational crime.
As animal conservation experts who work daily to save precious animal species, we know this is not just a problem in Africa or Asia — this is a problem in our own backyard.
The United States is one of the largest markets for illegal wildlife products in the world, and port cities like Tacoma and Seattle unknowingly serve as thoroughfares for illegal wildlife trafficking. Since 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has seized more than 50 elephant products making their way into Washington state, as well as products from other endangered animals. Yet none of those actions have resulted in any jail time or criminal fines for the traffickers.
Though the public strongly opposes this illegal trade, special interest groups continue to successfully lobby at the Congressional and state levels to halt efforts to strengthen laws and penalties. Just this year our own Washington Legislature failed to move forward a bill that would have established firmer protections for elephants and rhinos.
We cannot let our home state be an accomplice to the extinction of these majestic animals. Initiative 1401 will extend and strengthen penalties for the sale, purchase and distribution of products derived from a carefully developed list of 10 of the most threatened and exploited species in the world: elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays.
I-1401 is supported by leading organizations, including Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, The Humane Society of the United States, WildAid, Washington Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Seattle Aquarium and many others. The initiative was crafted in close collaboration with leading animal conservation experts to ensure it is maximally effective in protecting threatened animals while also avoiding any unintended harmful consequences to ordinary citizens. I-1401 is just plain common sense.
These at-risk animals are at a tipping point. We have an opportunity to disrupt that trajectory. Passing this important ballot measure will help to close our borders to the unconscionable trade in endangered animal products. And, a measure passed by popular vote will send a clear message nationally and internationally that we must do our part to save these animals from extinction
The time is now to do our part to battle animal exploitation and extinction. Ensuring that these animals survive and thrive in the wild is crucial to our generation — and to future generations.