Living in the Inland Northwest with its wilderness and wildlife is a privilege: The beauty of the diverse landscapes is enriched by the sounds of the resident and migratory fauna. But in many regions of the world, wild areas are becoming silent as endangered species are being illegally poached to extinction. The slaughter of animals for their parts – ivory from an elephant, the hide of a tiger, the horn of a rhinoceros – has devastated these populations. Initiative 1401, which will be on our November ballot, is the first step toward change, change that will preserve these species for future generations. A yes vote on I-1401 will enact penalties for those who sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, barter for, or distribute products from endangered species like elephants, tigers and rhinos. That’s why I am supporting Initiative 1401.
In my work in East Africa, I have seen how poaching and illegal trafficking robs local communities of a valuable resource for sustainable tourism, and brings violence into their midst. It is also a moral imperative: Can we do nothing when poachers kill elephants for black-market ivory, leaving the young to wander directionless? Or kill the last rhinoceros in the Serengeti with automatic rifles, only to hack off the horn for the false claims of its aphrodisiac or cancer-curing powers?
This is not hunting. This is illegal poaching by heavily armed outsiders with clear funding links to global terrorism. Closing the markets for this illegal trade is essential and is precisely the purpose of this initiative. The United States is the world’s second-largest market for products from endangered species – the global marketplace for ivory products alone is $3 billion annually – and the Ports of Seattle/Tacoma are major entry points, making up the third largest container operation in our country. In the past five years alone, there have been more than 50 seizures just of elephant products entering Washington, as well as seizures of products from other threatened animals. I-1401 would create new state penalties for state authorities to crack down on those who are trafficking these products in Washington.
To be clear, passing I-1401 alone will not reverse the illegal poaching of these animals: 1401 is about our state’s and your leadership in changing the status quo in the protection of endangered species, their habitats, and local communities. This is only the first step to a global solution, but one in which we can lead. We cannot wait. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “The time is always right to do what is right”.
By the simple and powerful act of voting yes on I-1401, we can create new penalties under state law for those caught profiting from products made from these endangered species. As a veterinarian, I took an oath to work for the “benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.” As a citizen, I make the choice to preserve wildlife diversity for future generations and protect and support the communities dependent on sustainable wildlife resources.
Please join me in voting yes on I-1401 this November.
Guy H. Palmer, DVM, Ph.D. , is a founding director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health at Washington State University and a professor of life sciences at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania. This is the personal opinion of Dr. Palmer and does not represent opinions or positions of either WSU or the Mandela institution.
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