Protecting the Unprotected: States Pass Laws to Control Wildlife Trade
By: Stacey Amanda Cargile
The state of Washington just passed a new wildlife trafficking law that makes the purchase, sale, or distribution of parts or products made from ten endangered animals a Class C felony. Protecting rhinos, tigers, lions, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, rays, and pangolins, this new law packs a hefty punch, with violators facing up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Passed with “overwhelming support,” Washington’s new law is a sign of a possible shift in the public’s perspective of wildlife trade issues. While in the past many people were likely unaware of the extent of wildlife trafficking or its associated problems, events such as the killing of Cecil the lion on July 1, 2015, have brought the issue to public light.
Cecil the lion became a household name when he was illegally shot and killed by an American visitor to Zimbabwe who paid $50,000 for the hunt. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has recommended that the African lion be protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. If this listing is approved, the lion will be protected through restrictions on trade and taking—defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” This protection would prevent trophy hunters from legally importing the spoils of overseas hunts of lions such as Cecil.
Washington’s new law, however, helps provide these protections for endangered animals without relying on action by the FWS. Cecil was hunted for a personal trophy, but many animal parts and products are imported for further trade for everything from souvenirs, trinkets, medicinal ingredients, fashion, and food products. By prohibiting the sale or trade of these products within the state’s borders, regardless of the legality of the importation, these laws can virtually eliminate the market and give importers no place to sell their animal product wares. While the wildlife black market still presents an enormous problem—valued at $10billion USD in 2009 and ranking as the third largest black market behind guns and drugs—eliminating the legal market for these products will go a long way towards protecting these species.
Washington is not the only state to have passed this type of legislation. California, New Jersey, and New York have similar, though less stringent, laws, and an Oregon law is in the works. North Carolina, however, has nothing of the kind. North Carolina General Statute §113-294 addresses the sale and trade of wildlife, specifically outlining fines and penalties for several species, including beaver, deer, elk, bear, and wild turkey. As a Class 2 misdemeanor, the unlawful sale or trade of these species is punishable by a fine of not less than $250. The sale or trade of endangered species, a Class 1 misdemeanor, is addressed in N.C.G.S. §113-337. Although Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes is entitled “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Wildlife Species of Special Concern,” the prohibition on sale or trade only applies to those species included on a protected wild animal list. While lions such as Cecil would seem to be a “species of special concern,” NCGS §113-331(8) restricts this designation to those species native or once-native to North Carolina. This leaves species such as African lions—those not yet listed as threatened or endangered but —to fall through the gap and remain essentially unprotected.
- Rachel La Corte, Washington Voters Pass Wildlife Trafficking Initiative, The Olympian, 3, 2015, http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/politics-government/election/article42498507.html
- Cecil the Lion Killed in Africa, CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/cecil-the-lion-killed-by-hunter/ (last accessed Nov. 16, 2015)
- S. Fish and Wildlife Service, African Lion, http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/african_lion.html (last accessed Nov. 16, 2015)
- S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Listing and Critical Habitat Overview, http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/listing-overview.html (last accessed Nov. 16, 2015)
- 16 U.S.C.S. §1532
- Traffic, Wildlife Trade: What is it?, http://www.traffic.org/trade/ (last accessed Nov. 16, 2015)
- Charles Bergman, Wildlife Trafficking, Smithsonian Magazine, Dec. 2009, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/wildlife-trafficking-149079896/?no-ist
- C.G.S. §113-294
- C.G.S. §113-337
 http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/listing-overview.html, 16 U.S.C.S. §1532
 N.C.G.S. §113-294
 N.C.G.S. §113-294(a)
 N.C.G.S. §113-337(b)
 N.C.G.S §113-337(a)