Congressional Hearing Addresses Illegal Tiger Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking

Witnesses linked illegal wildlife trade to organized crime, human health risks.

Posted: March 6 2008 2 a.m. EDT

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Courtesy of the House Committee on Natural Resources
Assistant Secretary of State Claudia McMurray discusses efforts by the U.S. State Department to curb the trade of illegal wildlife.

The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), held an oversight hearing on "Poaching American Security: Impacts of Illegal Wildlife Trade" on Capitol Hill yesterday.

“Illegal wildlife trafficking poses a risk, not just to the survival of God’s creatures but also to the safety and stability of our world and the American people. … For example, [Congressional Research Service] found that wildlife trade now ranks in the upper tier of the world’s most lucrative illicit economies, behind only illegal drugs and possibly human trafficking and arms trafficking,” Rahall said. The committee came together “to receive advice about how we might better address it,” he said.

The Honorable Claudia A. McMurray, Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science for the U.S. Department of State, said that in recent years illegal wildlife trafficking has grown, threatening to push many species to the brink of extinction. In addition to loss of the species, there are other inherent threats involved. “Wildlife trafficking is often linked to other forms of organized crime, including the smuggling of drugs, weapons and people,” she said.

“It’s going to take a major effort to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking … nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and the average American citizen,” McMurray said.

The tiger population, she said, has declined by an estimated 95 percent since the turn of the 20th century. “Today the wild tiger population is around 5,000 animals. … There is a relentless demand for tigers’ skins and body parts. Tiger populations are plummeting and at the same time the price for the products and the tigers themselves are increasing.”

Tiger skins are worth $16,000 in China and as much as $50,000 on the international black market, McMurray said. “A pound of tiger glue made from tiger bones sells for $2,000 in Vietnam. Tiger bone wine – yes wine – sells for $40 to over $100 depending on the vintage,” she said.

Benito Perez, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, said the United States is a major consumer in the wildlife trade black market. Asian medicinal products made from rhino, tiger, seal, and other endangered wildlife are often intercepted at U.S. ports of entry. Fur from snow leopards and other spotted cats has also been seized.

As predators, tigers play an important role in Earth’s ecology. Without them, there would be an increase in vegetation grazing animal populations, posing a threat to plant life and throwing the planet’s ecosystem off balance.

Celebrities, including Bo Derek and Harrison Ford, are involved in campaigns designed to raise consumer awareness of wildlife trafficking. Condoleeza Rice named Derek the Special Envoy for Wildlife Trafficking Issues and Ford will appear in public service announcements. “The United States has laid a foundation to combat this insidious practice, but we have much work yet to do,” McMurray said.

Further panel participants and witnesses include:  John Sellar, Senior Officer, Office of the Secretary General, CITES Secretariat, Switzerland; Steven R. Galster, Director of Field Operations, Wildlife Alliance, Thailand; John Hart, Scientific Director, Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba Project, Congo; William Clark, Illegal Wildlife Trade Expert; William E. Moritz, Director of Conservation and Acting Director of Governmental Affairs, Safari Club International Foundation, U.S.A.; Peter Pueschel, Illegal Wildlife Trade Program Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Germany.

To read transcripts from the hearing, including testimony about the trafficking of birds, fish, reptiles and other animals, click here.

-Susan Logan, editor of CAT FANCY and


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Congressional Hearing Addresses Illegal Tiger Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking

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Reader Comments

Angela    Hamburg, NY

3/13/2008 7:45:46 AM

Something needs to be done about this horrible practice soon.

Nicole    Edina, MN

3/9/2008 8:52:18 AM

I hope they follow through and enforce it.

Ellen    Attleboro, MA

3/7/2008 12:31:06 AM

Good, I hope it works

Karen    Standish, ME

3/6/2008 8:46:12 PM

We need to stop Wild Life Trafficking before we end up with no wild life. This will help. Please write letters to support this cause. the power of the pen is important..

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