Wildlife Trafficking Is a National Security Issue

Wildlife and water don’t know borders. For conservation to be effective, we need governments, NGOs and the private sector all working together.


A withered Bengal tiger cub weighing less than a quarter of its normal body weight; king cobras concealed in potato chip containers; a suitcase stuffed with bound exotic songbirds, nearly all of them dead by the time their perilous journey came to an end.

These are just a few of the grisly discoveries of an ongoing initiative—Operation Jungle Book—that exposed a wildlife trafficking ring in Southern California. The investigation and prosecution of these crimes was authorized by the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act, bipartisan legislation signed into law last year to strengthen international cooperation and treat the illegal wildlife trade the same as arms and drug trafficking.

As Operation Jungle Book shows, wildlife trafficking affects communities across the globe, including in my home state of California. Stopping these crimes isn’t just about saving the icons of our animal kingdom from extinction. It is also about our national security.

There are roles for all of us to play. Congress is working to provide a clear direction for the United States, and other governments, to follow. As America’s voice abroad, diplomats and other foreign policy professionals can have an especially big impact.

That’s why I always encourage our men and women in the field to make conservation issues a priority. It’s a great way to get out into communities, establish new government contacts, and build relationships with local businesses and law enforcement.

The challenge is clear. Profits from the illicit trade in animal parts—estimated at $20 billion annually—are a key funding source for rebels and terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, as well as international criminal syndicates and smuggling networks. These groups corrupt local governments and spread violence, thereby devastating the economies of affected communities. According to a 2016 World Wildlife Fund study, elephant poaching costs African economies as much as $25 million in lost tourism revenue each year. This means more hunger, more poverty and more violence across the continent.

I saw this firsthand on a delegation I recently led to Angola, Botswana and Namibia. The Okavango River Delta, which spans these countries, is home to one million people and the world’s largest remaining elephant herd. But, as in other African regions, poaching and other forms of wildlife trafficking are increasing in the delta, and unwise development being pushed by China and others threatens to siphon off the delta’s water.

To help protect this unique ecosystem, I’m working to enact the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act. Among other things, this bill strengthens cooperation between the governments of the United States, Angola, Botswana and Namibia and promotes responsible economic growth and natural resource management. I was proud to see the House of Representatives pass the DELTA Act in July, and I now look forward to seeing it through in the Senate.

Like we did with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, our goal with the DELTA Act is to strengthen coordination among the key players in the region. Wildlife and water don’t know borders. For conservation to be effective, we need governments, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector all working together. Our world’s wellbeing depends on this and many more such efforts.

Representative Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and sponsor of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act. He is also championing the DELTA Act in Congress.