Sunday Read: World Wildlife Day
On March 3, 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(“CITES”) was adopted by signatories including the United States. CITES is one of the oldest and most widely signed conservation treaties in the world, and created a plan for sustainable practices years before climate change become an issue of popular debate. To foster awareness of the importance of wildlife conservation, the United Nations (UN) declared March 3rd World Wildlife Day (“WWD”). National Whistleblower Center joins the UN in recognizing the value of wildlife protections. This Sunday, we bring you a reading dedicated to wildlife whistleblowers.
Each year, the United Nations announces a different theme for World Widlife Day. This year, the theme is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”. Whistleblowers are key to preventing illegal hunting and poaching of protected animals and the illegal trade in both these animals and natural resources — like timber — commonly found in protected habitats. For this reason, NWC has fought for — and will continue to fight for — improved wildlife whistleblower protections.
Encouraging Whistleblower Protections
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) is a conservation organization consisting of more than 1,400 NGOs and governmental organizations. New resolutions passed during the IUCN’s Marseille Congress provide new hope for the implementation of greater protections for whistleblowers among member nations.
With the involvement of the National Whistleblower Center, the Marseille Congress passed four new resolutions for the protection of wildlife that included notable whistleblower provisions. The enactment of these resolutions is critically important for the future of conservation policy — governments associated with the IUCN were shown the ways in which whistleblowers can be valuable tools for detecting and pursuing wildlife crimes. With poaching becoming an increasingly internationalized crime, it can be difficult for governments to track, making whistleblowers ever more valuable in disrupting transnational wildlife crime.
The idea that local communities should be empowered to become involved in wildlife conservation is critical to successful conservation efforts and fosters trust and cooperation between all parties involved. By enshrining this principle in the IUCN resolutions, whistleblowers living in the communities most effected by wildlife trafficking will have better tools for rooting out wildlife crime at the source.
Intervening in Wildlife Crime
Criminal activity, including poaching and wildlife trafficking, poses an enormous threat to global wildlife populations. For example, the World Wildlife Fund has said that the greatest current threat to the African elephant is wildlife crime, as an estimated 20,000 of these elephants are poached every year to fuel the illicit ivory trade. The existence of these thriving international black markets is an issue that eludes traditional wildlife policies targeting poachers.
The bipartisan Wildlife Conservation & Anti-Trafficking Act (“WCATA”) was reintroduced in Congress in December of 2021. The bill aims to tackle wildlife crime by making it simpler and less dangerous for whistleblowers to come forward with relevant information that helps the government prosecute wildlife crime. The impact of this proposal would be far-reaching: despite species like the African elephant having their populations clustered abroad, WCATA would allow the United States to tackle wildlife crime around the world.
Fraud in securities and government contracts has been more widely and quickly identified and prosecuted after the implementation of whistleblower programs with mandated rewards. It is time such incentives be applied to whistleblowers who report information about wildlife crime. If wildlife crime whistleblowers who provide information leading to successful prosecution are made eligible for mandatory rewards, there will be a greater incentive for whistleblowers to come forward considering the grave risks they often face. By mandating that these rewards be paid, WCATA will revolutionize the detection of wildlife crime.
By designating wildlife trafficking as an organized crime and a federal racketeering offense, as the WCATA provides, the ability of the United States to dismantle systems that destroy wildlife populations will be drastically improved. The illegal international wildlife and seafood trade is extremely profitable and is the fourth most profitable black market in the world. As such, it is often linked to larger criminal organizations and can involve human rights abuses that cross international borders. If WCATA is passed, it will become easier to eliminate larger networks of black-market sales as opposed to just individual perpetrators.
Additionally, money recovered from wildlife cases under WCATA would be directed to international conservation. Proceeds from the prosecution of illegal wildlife trafficking could be used to supplement the efforts of environmental organizations working to help restore endangered populations. The policies included in WCATA would help mitigate the impact of wildlife crime on populations of key species while bolstering new projects intended to improve conservation efforts.
Support Wildlife Whistleblowers Today
NWC works to ensure that all wildlife whistleblowers are protected and feel safe coming forward with information that helps stop wildlife crime. Advocating for wildlife whistleblowers is essential to strengthening conservation efforts. To show your support for wildlife whistleblowers on World Wildlife Day, and NWC’s Wildlife Whistleblower Pledge.
This story was researched and drafted by NWC Intern Harshita Bondhi, a Political Science major at the University of California, Davis.