Stopping the Wildlife Trade is also about saving people. Why You Must Know About Wildlife Terrorism Now: An open letter to all Vermonters ~ Passing H.297 is the easiest thing Vermonters can do to alleviate wildlife terrorism and its threats against global stability.
By Allen R. Sandico MPA, founder and Chief Elephant Officer™ (CEO) of Tusk Task Force.
I implore the people of Vermont to pass H.297 without exemptions. Elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of approximately 96 a day and rhinos are being killed every four hours, to the point that both species will be gone from the wild within five to ten years. Vermont currently allows a legal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. This must end. Four other states have laws on the books that would outlaw this commercial trade. It is Vermont’s turn to do the same in 2016 and to be on the right side of history. As long as one can buy and sell ivory in Vermont, which is currently the case, then indeed Vermont is very much part of the problem.
Why should Vermont care and why should we take this on when there are so many issues in our state?
The reasons are many. The crisis of extinction of two of the world’s most iconic species and the massive implications this will have on humanity and the stability of an entire continent are profound. Also, the solution is simple.
By passing H.297, Vermont has a rare opportunity to become a part of the solution, especially as it pertains to Africa. This is really not just about trinkets, pianos, mantle trophies, museum pieces, musical instruments, fake medicine, and gun handles anymore. It’s about much more than that.
Looking at this crisis and the many others we face are not mutually exclusive. To say that we can’t look at this because we have to focus on matters of our state is hugely misguided and short-sighted. Surely we can do both — with the illegal trade of wildlife products being the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, Vermont does have an obligation to fix what it can.
Vermont needs to care for critically important reasons — the first being that the ivory trade funds terrorism. This is no longer myth, speculation, or hyperbole: it has now been established as fact. The world must know about wildlife being a casualty of terrorism so we may find solutions to stop the slaughter due to greed-driven human conflicts that disrupt global stability and threaten every one of us.. The world must choose to make policies that will support a vibrant wildlife economy over a violent extinction economy. Ending the trade in ivory and rhino horn will also end a substantial funding revenue channel to terrorists. The urgency is now, before it’s really too late — for a whole continent is suffering.
The major terrorist organizations in the Middle East and the criminal cartels of Asia have chosen Africa as a source of revenue because of the big profits generated by the ivory and rhino horn trade, an insidious evil commerce wreaking havoc on Africa’s stability. Reports from many intelligence agencies have concluded that an elephant tusk may sell for up to $175,000 and rhino horn is up to $30,000 per pound, making poaching easy and big money for terrorists.
With 183 Chinese mafia or “Triad” groups (active in 11 countries, including the United States) doing the selling and distribution of wildlife parts from Africa, a substantial portion of these illegal profits are ending up in the hands of terrorist organizations and their affiliates; supplying arms and resources back to poachers. So long as there is any value on ivory and rhino horn, the proceeds ends up in the hands of Da’esh (the more appropriate and correct term for ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qae’da through their affiliates in Africa.
Some of those names you may be familiar with.
They include Boko Haram (dubbed by intelligence agencies the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world, it is responsible for abducting and killing hundreds of school children in Nigeria), the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC, also an affiliate of al-Shabaab, was responsible for the 2014 mall shootings in Kenya with 60 people killed), and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA, implicated with many war crime atrocities in Uganda and South Sudan).
In particular, the LRA has been found to kill hundreds of elephants, trading the ivory tusks for ammunition, food, and uniforms in Sudanese-controlled territory. These findings were corroborated by rebel defectors and local witnesses. Unfortunately, wildlife is not only the casualty; also killed are the wildlife park rangers who defend it. An undercover investigation revealed that ivory funds 40% of al-Shabaab’s operations in Kenya through the MRC.
The bottom line is this: If anyone trades in ivory or rhino horn, legal or illegal, they become complicit in funding terrorism. Thus, a cycle of violence ensues and profits go back to terrorists as many players get into the take: poachers, guides, middle men, mules, corrupt officials, kingpins, carvers, merchants, dealers, and finally the consumer.
Furthermore, stopping the $17-billion illegal wildlife trade is a moral imperative. Dubbed the “extinction economy,” this trade is an economic, environmental, humanitarian, political, and security catastrophe. It diminishes economic development in many of the world’s poorest countries and communities due to the money-laundering that is integral to it. The illicit trade destroys family structures and degrades women by eclipsing opportunities for them to sell their hand crafts to tourists, thereby forefeting the valuable income necessary to send their children to school. Without the tourists dollars derived from the “wildlife economy” that these families depend on, millions of African women are missing out on financial and educational opportunities to enhance their lives and the lives of their children, given that education is a venue leading out of poverty.
From the ecological perspective, the “extinction economy” disrupts eco-systems by killing the “gardeners of the forests and savannahs,” which elephants are considered to be given that they constantly enrich the soil via their dung, thereby increasing its productivity. From the socio-economic and global-security level, the extinction economy exacerbates poverty among people who depend on the land and increases fatality rates due to violence between poachers, wildlife park rangers, and the local population. It threatens border security between fragile nations and triggers conflicts between governments that are often in collusion with corrupt governance involved with wildlife trade. It is a catalyst to terrorist activities that are linked to other transnational crimes like money-laundering, human trafficking, sexual slavery, narcotics smuggling, child abductions, counterfeit trade, and weapons proliferation. This is the big ugly picture.
But you might ask: Is this law going to make an impact at all?
The same question was asked by the citizens of New York, New Jersey, and California when the issue was brought up to their state legislatures during the past two years. The citizens responded by pushing their respective legislature to pass laws banning the trade of ivory and rhino horn. The logic is simple enough. Banning the trade in their states stops the transit of wildlife parts to and from their borders, decreasing the supply and demand for it. On Election Day last year, 71% of Washington state voters overwhelmingly voted for a statewide referendum banning the trade. Collectively, these states made a statement that banning wildlife trade could be an effective deterrent against terrorism. Nine other states are currently considering the issue as a ballot measure or legislative action.
If more states stop the market for ivory and rhino horn, it will help prevent the extinction of these majestic animals and diminish a growing humanitarian crisis of poverty and crime, as well. When all fifty states pass this measure, it will give a resounding message to China — the largest market for ivory — to ban wildlife trade, thereby compelling it (China) to take concrete steps to do the same.
These laws are also making a statement to Africa that these animals and the “wildlife economy” are also worth preserving and to do this, the ivory and rhino trade must end. If we can’t save the wildlife, we won’t be able to save Africa. It’s more than just wildlife actually, it also an economic driver to lift Africa from poverty. For example, it’s been estimated that, in purely commercial terms, a living elephant or rhino is worth 75 times more than a dead one. That’s how important the wildlife economy is to Africa. This is their asset but we are all responsible for it because it is also their gift to the world. If Africa fails, the rest of the world will fail. In short, this is a matter of vital importance to everyone.
Urging our lawmakers to pass H.297 is the easiest thing Vermonters can do to alleviate all these threats against global stability and to save two of the most iconic species the world has ever known from imminent extinction, thereby saving millions of tourism jobs for a place in dire need of economic stability.
In short, what Vermont will do about this law affects the big picture. This is the simplest way to tell the world that Vermont leads by its values of peace and security and its ecological and moral vision.
So, is Vermont for evil or are we for good?
To echo the testimony of Mr. Jon Fishman (of the band Phish) to the House Committee on April 9, 2015, considering this issue, “it’s a no-brainer.” By choosing to stop wildlife terrorism, the life we save may also be our own.
PLEASE CALL YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVE TODAY AND TELL THEM TO PASS H.297 WITHOUT EXEMPTIONS IN 2016.
To find your representative, please visit http://legislature.vermont.gov/people
The author is a proud Vermonter and an honors graduate of Norwich University.
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