Protecting the lions and tigers and bears

Initiative 1401, the Washington Wildlife Trafficking initiative, is on the Washington state ballot today, and is an easy way to make a difference in the conservation of the world’s endangered species.

I-1401 would make it illegal to sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, barter for or distribute any animal or product made from the animals named in the measure. These include the elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, cheetah, leopard, pangolin, marine turtle, shark and ray. Breaking this law could result in a maximum penalty of $1000 and five years in prison.

This initiative will help stop the slaughter of 34 of the World Wildlife Fund’s list of the top 100 endangered species, in addition to many other species not on that list that are still considered threatened.

Rodney Sayler, the director of WSU’s Endangered Species Lab, said this is an important issue in today’s world, but it sometimes goes unnoticed.

“The global black market that fuels the illegal and unsustainable harvesting of plants and animals is one of the largest black markets in the world. It is shocking to think that black markets for wildlife rank right up there with black markets for drugs and the sex trade,” Sayler said.

“Except for some of the more well-known animals, like rhinos and elephants, people generally are not aware of the magnitude of illegal wildlife harvesting and how badly it is endangering so many species around the world,” he said.

Sayler said initiatives like I-1401 help reduce market loopholes for illegal wildlife products, raise public awareness of the issue and help generate efforts to save critically endangered species that are teetering on the brink of extinction.

Those opposed say the initiative is targeting antique enthusiasts and making innocent art collectors into criminals. However, the measure does contain exclusions.

These include if the product is distributed for scientific or educational use, an authentic antique or musical instrument that is composed of less than 15 percent of the animal, distributed to a legal beneficiary of an estate, trust, or inheritance, or authorized by federal law or for law enforcement activities.

“The law is not targeted at antique dealers and defines multiple pathways for ownership and trade of legitimate antiques. Many small and common items, such as musical instruments with less than 15 percent by volume of a restricted wildlife product (e.g., ivory) are exempt. The case being made by antique dealers is exaggerated because of their vested economic interests,” Sayler said.

In addition to stopping wildlife trafficking directly, the initiative will also help raise awareness. Once the items have been seized, officers will be allowed to donate them to educational or scientific institutions to teach people why wildlife trafficking should be stopped.

“This law will help raise awareness among U.S. tourists going to other countries that they should be extremely wary of purchasing items potentially made with illegal wildlife products,” Sayler said. “By raising awareness of this issue, the law helps reduce the market at the source – the individual originally purchasing illegal wildlife products.”

With the rapidly declining populations of many species around the world, it is increasingly important for everyone to do their part for change.

“If passed, the I-1401 will be a small but important step in the global effort urgently needed to curb black markets for illegal wildlife products,” Sayler said.

This is just a small way to show that Washingtonians believe there is an importance in wildlife conservation, and set an example for the rest of the country.

Taylor Morton is a freshman studying wildlife ecology and conservation from Pasadena, Calif. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this Column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.