The killing of Cecil the lion this summer by an American hunter seeking a trophy head brought global attention to the illegal hunting of endangered animals.
It’s a huge and profitable business, and it is killing so many animals that many species are on the brink of extinction.
Rhinos are killed for their horns, mistakenly used as a cure for cancer. Poachers often use automatic weapons to fell elephants for their ivory tusks. Tigers are taken for their pelts, meat and body parts. Sea turtles are killed for their eggs, meat, skin and shells.
Lesser-known animals are equally at risk, including the pangolin – also known as the scaly anteater – which are being slaughtered in alarming numbers to feed the Asian medicine market.
The United States is the second biggest market for illegal ivory (China is first), and the toll is high to feed that market: 30,000 elephants were slaughtered in 2012 alone. At that rate, the species’ future is doubtful.
Now an initiative that will be on Washington voters’ Nov. 3 ballot seeks to make it tougher for the trafficking in endangered species to go unpunished in this state. Voters should approve it.
Initiative 1401 would ban the purchase, sale and distribution of parts from 10 endangered animals: lions, elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, pangolins, sharks and rays. Offenders could be charged with a gross misdemeanor if the value is under $250 or a class-C felony if over.
Many of the products are brought in the state through its major ports of Tacoma and Seattle. I-1401 would provide more authority for seizing and disposing of those products.
The initiative’s language includes exceptions for many items that people already own. For instance, a piano with ivory keys would be exempt because the ivory makes up less than 15 percent of the item. Owners of pieces made from endangered animals wouldn’t be able to sell them in this state, but they could leave items to their heirs or donate them for educational, scientific or museum purposes. Items may also be allowed under federal permit or law, such as those that apply to Native American tribes.
Initiative 1401 is backed financially by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, but it also has widespread support among all the credible conservation organizations. Those include the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Metro Parks, Washington Conservation Voters, Audubon and the Sierra Club. The state Democratic Party and Mainstream Republicans of Washington have also endorsed it.
It’s far too easy in much of the world to traffic in the deaths of endangered species. That’s no reason for it to be easy here, too. Vote to approve I-1401.