Vern Buchanan wants to increase ‘bounty’ on wildlife poachers
Conservation efforts for rhinos have stalled amid increased poaching.
Passed in House, legislation now moving in Senate.

Could there soon be a greater bounty on the head of poachers than the creatures they hunt?

Legislation (HR 97) sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan aims to increase rewards for apprehending wildlife traffickers worldwide.

It already passed unanimously in the House. Now, companion legislation (S 1590) has started to advance in the Senate. The Rescuing Animals With Rewards (or RAWR) Act now has made it through a vote by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Wildlife trafficking is a nefarious and persistent threat to endangered animals across the world,” Buchanan said. “The RAWR Act provides another tool to crack down on the billions of dollars generated by this illegal activity.

“I was pleased to see this important measure take another critical step forward and urge Senate leaders to pass my bill and send it to the President’s desk for his signature.”

Notably, Buchanan and a bipartisan group of lawmakers found traction for the RAWR Act just after President Donald Trump’s administration signaled it could allow more legal transport of trophy prey into the United States.

The Trump administration last month granted the first trophy import permit to a Florida hunter, Carl Atkinson of Orlando, to bring home the skin, skull, claws and teeth of a a lion killed in Tanzania, reports the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act has covered lions since 2016.

“This is tragic news for lion conservation, and it suggests that the Trump administration may soon open the floodgates to trophy imports from Tanzania,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Tanzania in recent years started allowing the legal hunting of lions that are at least six years old. The RAWR Act applies to criminal poaching.

But the legislation would authorize the State Department to offer cash rewards to information leading to apprehension and conviction of wildlife traffickers.

Buchanan’s office did note hundreds of lions get killed and mutilated illegally for their claws and teeth each year.

The Congressman’s team spotlighted a National Geographic investigation on lion poaching that mentioned the killing of four young lions in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park. The animals were found with their faces and paws hacked off; the killing of juvenile lions remains very much illegal throughout Africa.

The Sarasota Republican worked with U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat, to get the bill across the line in the House.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, will shepherd the bill in the Senate.

“Does anyone forget the magic on a child’s face seeing an elephant or giraffe or rhino for the first time?” Merkley said.

“When the world loses these magnificent animals, we all lose something. The next generation shouldn’t be left just seeing pictures in a book of amazing animals, from before poachers, traffickers, and profiteers killed them all off.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports an uptick in trafficking of wildlife globally. The bodies of elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions and other wild creatures have become sought-after trophies.

Conservation efforts for rhinos internationally have stalled amid a spike in the successful poaching of the animal for its horn.

Elephants also remain a frequent target of attacks for their ivory. Enforcement agencies estimate right now that a kilogram of ivory can sell for around $2,100 on the black market. Intact rhino horns can go for as much as $65,000.

Beyond the animal cruelty aspect, the trade has helped fund international terrorist groups like the one formerly known as Boko Haram. That group is most infamous in the United States for human trafficking that inspired U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson’s “Bring Back Our Girls” protest. But it has also killed an estimated 25,000 elephants over the course of the last decade.

Buchanan said legislation could put a competing financial incentive on stopping poachers: “It is imperative that we get this bill to the President’s desk as soon as possible. Terrorist groups rely on funding derived from this illicit industry. We need to do all we can to discourage this type of criminal activity.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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