WASHINGTON – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved the re-authorization for an additional five years of conservation programs for African elephants, Asian elephants, rhinos and tigers. The Senate Committee adopted H.R. 465 and H.R. 50, which were passed by the House of Representatives on July 23. There were no amendments and the two bills are expected to be adopted by the Senate by unanimous consent and then head to the President’s desk for signature.
“These relatively modest programs can make a big difference for anti-poaching efforts, smuggling control, habitat preservation, field monitoring, disease prevention, public education, and solutions to human-animal conflicts around the world,“ said Ginette Hemley, head of conservation programs at World Wildlife Fund. “We thank Chairman Barbara Boxer in the Senate and Chairman Nick Rahall in the House for their continued support of these programs.”
These bills authorize up to $20 million in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is room for expansion of current programs that were funded in FY 2007 at $4.4 million for these species. The House has already passed legislation for FY 2008 providing for $6.5 million for these species, and the Senate has increased funding to $5 million. A final figure will be decided in a House-Senate Conference Committee later this year.
African elephants, especially in West, Central and East Africa, are under intense pressure from poachers of ivory for sale on the international black market. The trade in illegal wildlife products is close behind the trade in illegal drugs and illegal weapons. Grants from the African Elephant Conservation Fund have been made since 1990 to provide protection from poachers and for surveys of elephant populations and habitats. The Fund supported an experimental program intended to reduce human-elephant conflicts by helping local farmers to grow chili peppers. These peppers are an irritant to elephants and deter them from raiding the farmers’ fields. The program has been so successful that a market was subsequently developed for “elephant friendly” chili peppers through McIlheny, Inc. Creative solutions to human-animal conflicts have been a major contribution of the Conservation Funds.
The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund has been re-authorized at $10 million, and the House and Senate are considering an appropriation this year of between $2 million and $2.5 million. These funds will be especially timely in view of major declines in tiger populations in India. Last year the Sariska Tiger Reserve was found to have no remaining tigers, and this year a new survey has revealed that only 1300 tigers remain in India. Persitent over-counting and poaching for illegal markets in Tibet and China have reduced the number of wild tigers by two thirds in less than a decade. The future of tigers in the wild will depend on the level of protection provided by local authorities, and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Fund will be a crucial element in providing that protection.
Although many thousands of domesticated Asian elephants are found in Southeast Asia, they face extinction in the wild from the impacts of rapidly growing human populations and shrinking habitat. Wild elephant populations are mostly small and isolated because their migratory routes have been cut off by human settlements. Confrontations between elephants and people often lead to deaths on both sides, and poaching for ivory, meat and hides is still a widespread problem.
“A small investment by the United States leverages more than three times as much in additional funds through public-private partnerships, contributing to the survival of major species about which Americans care deeply. The programs also help promote a positive image of the United States around the world,” continued Hemley.