Statement of Ginette Hemley, Vice President for Species Conservation World Wildlife Fund
on the Bear Protection Act, Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act,
Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1998, Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Reauthorization Act of 1998
July 7, 1998

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear here today. I am Ginette Hemley, Vice President for Species Conservation at World Wildlife Fund. WWF is the largest private conservation organization working internationally to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats. We currently support wildlife conservation efforts in more than 100 countries, including almost all tiger and rhino range nations.

My testimony today will cover a wide range of proposed legislation. Regarding the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act, I will provide WWF's perspective on why this bill is vital to helping law enforcement agencies police the illegal trade in rhino and tiger products, one of the most urgent threats facing these critically endangered species. In addition, I will discuss why it is crucial to reauthorize the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Act as an important source of support for rhino and tiger conservation programs. I also will offer some recommendations on how the proposed Bear Protection Act might be strengthened to help the world's most threatened bear species, and suggest amendments that would improve the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998. Finally, I will explain why we endorse the proposed Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1998.

The United States has long been a leader in international wildlife conservation. For more than 25 years, the Endangered Species Act has served as model legislation for countries worldwide struggling to protect imperiled species such as tigers and rhinos. By addressing the range of threats -- from poaching to illegal trade to habitat loss -- the ESA has served as a critical weapon in the global fight to stop species' decline. In recent years, the United States also has taken unprecedented action under other laws such as the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman's Protective Act to encourage stronger endangered species protection measures in other countries. By imposing wildlife trade sanctions on Taiwan in 1994 for its failure to stop the illegal trade in tiger and rhino products, the United States stimulated much-needed conservation progress, not only in Taiwan but elsewhere in Asia as well. And, through programs administered by the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USAID, the United States has provided critical on-the-ground support for efforts to protect dwindling populations of tigers, rhinos, elephants, and other threatened species.

Why We Need the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act

This Committee is well aware of the crisis facing rhinos and tigers in the wild, and the staggering declines these species have experienced. Ninety-five percent of the world's wild tigers have disappeared since the turn of the century, with losses to poaching accelerating over the past decade. There are probably fewer than 6,000 tigers remaining in the wild today. Similarly, more than 95 percent of Africa's black rhinos have been lost in just three decades. Today there are fewer than 2,500 of these animals in the wild. Asian rhinos face even longer odds -- the Javan rhino, for instance, is down to fewer than 70 animals in the wild today.

We know all too well where the blame lies for these dramatic declines. In addition to having lost so much habitat to expanding human populations and uses, tigers and rhinos have been poached nearly out of existence for their highly valued body parts. Poaching represents the most immediate threat to the survival of these species, a problem to a large degree driven by the demand for bone, horn and other parts used in traditional Chinese medicines. In fact, according to international experts, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, as many as one quarter of the world's tigers may have been killed to supply the international black market trade for their body parts, particularly bone. As economies and trade centers grew in East Asia including China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, so did the commerce in tiger, rhino and other species used in traditional medicine, in spite of a 20-year-old ban under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The direct link between international trade and the decline of tiger and rhino populations has become increasingly clear as investigations into the government trade records and confiscations of consumer countries such as South Korea and China revealed a significant volume of tiger bone and rhinoceros horn flowing across their borders in the early part of this decade.

Many people do not realize that, in addition to East Asia, the United States is also a significant market for packaged traditional Chinese medicines containing or claiming to contain tiger bone, rhino horn, and other protected species. In January, World Wildlife Fund released a report produced by its wildlife trade monitoring program, TRAFFIC, highlighting an alarming trend. There are more medicinal products advertised as containing tiger bone in North American markets today than there were five years ago. According to TRAFFIC's investigation, which covered seven major cities in the United States and Canada (Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver), over 40 percent of the nearly 110 traditional medicine shops surveyed had tiger and rhino medicines for sale. Investigators found 31 different types of tiger and rhino medicines available, the vast majority made in China. Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit a copy of the TRAFFIC report for the record.

Why, in spite of the Endangered Species Act, CITES, the Lacey Act and other laws, are these products readily available for sale on the U.S. market? We see three primary reasons: (1) inadequate enforcement of existing import prohibitions established under the Endangered Species and Lacey Acts; (2) lack of domestic legislation prohibiting the sale of products labeled as containing endangered species; and (3) lack of public awareness about the illegality of such products and the threats to tigers and rhinos in the wild.

Inadequacies in laws regulating domestic tiger and rhino trade have attracted increasing scrutiny in recent years. At each of the past two Conferences of the Parties to CITES in 1994 and 1997, resolutions were passed calling on member governments to strengthen legislation controlling trade in tiger and rhino parts, including the prohibition of internal trade in these species and their derivatives as well as in products labeled as containing their parts or derivatives. Fortunately, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore have strengthened their laws to comply with the CITES recommendations, which has had an important and measurable effect on dampening the illegal trade. Unfortunately, the United States has still to act.

The U.S. has allowed a fundamental weakness in current trade controls to remain, which makes it relatively risk-free to sell rhino and tiger medicinal products in this country. Although import of and interstate commerce in rhino and tiger medicines are prohibited under both the Endangered Species and Lacey Acts, these laws place the burden of proof that a product actually contains the prohibited wildlife ingredients upon the government. Forensic analysis of these products is costly, time-consuming, and often inconclusive, presenting a powerful disincentive to prosecuting suspected violations. The Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act would allow enforcement agencies to take immediate action against anyone caught importing, exporting or selling products claiming to contain tiger or rhino.

Controversy continues over whether products in the U.S. marketplace do in fact contain endangered wildlife ingredients. Their low cost and widespread availability would seem to defy the laws of supply and demand. However, if these products contain even trace amounts of tiger bone or rhino horn ( and investigations into the factories in China where these products are made suggest that this could well be the case ( the sheer volume of sales of these products represents an imminent threat to the survival of these critically endangered species. Furthermore, even if they contain no rhino or tiger derivatives, the promotion of these products in the marketplace stimulates the demand for real rhino and tiger medicines, and makes consumers less receptive to medicinal substitutes made from non-endangered species.

To address this problem, Congress should pass legislation similar to H.R. 2807, the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act and make it illegal to sell any product that purports to contain rhino or tiger. Next, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should implement a coordinated, national strategy for interdiction of these illegal products. The January 1998 TRAFFIC study helps pinpoint where attention is most needed. Notably, Los Angeles, the one city where the federal government has made a concerted effort to enforce the import laws and increase public awareness, ranked as the "cleanest" city for endangered species medicines in the study. Finally, the conservation community and federal and state agencies responsible for wildlife trade control must work closely with traditional Chinese medicine and Asian communities to raise awareness about both the trade problem and the plight of the endangered species involved. We must work together to find and advocate culturally appropriate substitute medicines.

Since the beginning of this year, WWF has been working with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine to build public support for tiger conservation within the Chinese community in San Francisco and reduce demand for tiger and other endangered species medicines. In June, we held a first-of-its-kind conference, attended by 150 participants and bringing together tiger experts, conservationists, wildlife trade specialists, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners and retailers, TCM educators and students, Chinese language school teachers, and Chinese American community leaders, to formulate a collaborative strategy to conserve tigers and reduce demand for tiger bone medicines. The conference was productive even beyond expectations and laid the groundwork for meaningful grassroots tiger conservation actions to come. Representatives from the TCM retail association declared their support of the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act and hope to see it enacted without delay.

Mr. Chairman, the House of Representatives passed the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act, H.R. 2807, in April. We urge you, as a matter of priority, to legislation similar to H.R. 2807. Every reasonable measure must be undertaken to save the world's remaining rhinos and tigers, and this legislation is a critical part of our international conservation efforts.

The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Reauthorization Act of 1998

We have all heard the grim statistics about the dire status of tigers and rhinos. Equally deserving of recognition, though, is the heartening progress made in recent years toward halting and reversing these trends. In 1985, a survey of tigers in the Russian Far East reached the alarming conclusion that only about 250 of these animals, the world's largest tigers, remained. In the chaotic aftermath of the breakup of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, poaching escalated further. Russian and international conservationists and many governments, including the United States, quickly joined forces -- and contributed financial resources -- to shore up protection for tigers. A 1996 survey counted as many as 475 tigers in Siberia -- strong evidence that the population appears to be rebuilding.

There are rhino success stories as well. In Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal, a population of greater one-horned rhinos that numbered about one thousand at the beginning of the century had shrunk to a seemingly doomed 60 individuals only two decades ago. Today, this population is estimated at a robust 450 rhinos, thanks to intensive conservation efforts -- made possible by steady funding -- that have staved off human encroachment and reduced poaching incidents to near zero. In Africa, black rhinos also have benefited from vigorous protection measures that have helped many populations stabilize during this decade after the poaching carnage of the 1970s and 1980s.

The message here is simple: the situation for tigers and rhinos is critical, but it is by no means hopeless. When financial support is available and reliable, the improvements can be rapid and dramatic. We know what needs to be done. We have better data on these species and their habitat, closer international coordination among stakeholders, and a more strategic vision than ever before. An example of research that pinpoints specific places and projects for tiger protection is A Framework for Identifying High Priority Areas and Actions for the Conservation of Tigers in the Wild, a joint publication of World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save the Tiger Fund. This report delineates 25 remaining habitat areas where tigers stand the best chance of long-term survival. By concentrating on these 25 areas, we can maintain representation of tigers across their full range. The report also analyzes the viability of existing tiger reserves, pointing out that many are too small to sustain tiger populations, and that many tigers live outside reserve boundaries. Ultimately, each critical tiger habitat area should contain a network of tiger reserves surrounded by buffer zones where limited human activities are permitted and linked by corridors that allow tigers to disperse among once-isolated islands of habitat. Securing such protected area networks -- and the tiger's future -- hinges upon securing long-term investment from sources like the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Fund.

Working with rhino experts and international partners such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN), WWF has developed a comparable recovery strategy for African rhinos, and will complete a strategy for Asian rhinos later this year. WWF's African Rhino Action Plan identifies key rhino populations -- those with the greatest probability of long-term survival -- and sets out a blueprint for achieving stable rhino populations. Priority projects such as expanding rhino reserves and intensifying anti-poaching efforts require a major commitment of resources at a time when many African countries have scaled back wildlife conservation budgets in response to other pressing development needs. And wildlife management agencies in many Asian countries are no better off financially than those in Africa. Here, too, funding from the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Fund is a critical complement to the support already coming for rhino conservation from other private and public sources.

As with the African Elephant Conservation Fund, widely recognized as a success, the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Fund represents a long-term commitment by the United States government to these threatened species. While the U.S. supported 31 important projects in FY 1996 and FY 1997, many remained unfunded and the number of proposals to the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to rapidly increase. The fund, which must be shared among tigers in 14 countries and five species of Asian and African rhinos, is spread far too thin. Although the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Act authorizes up to $10 million a year, only $400,000 per year has been appropriated. We understand that the Senate Appropriations Committee did not approve additional funding in the FY 1999 Interior Appropriations bill for the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Fund. We strongly urge the members of this Committee to support an increased appropriation for this fund, to at least $1 million for FY 1999. This additional investment will make a significant and measurable difference for these imperiled species.

The Bear Protection Act

World Wildlife Fund greatly appreciates the interest of Senator McConnell and the other cosponsors of S. 263, the Bear Protection Act, in improving the conservation status of the world's eight bear species. We would like to offer the following information and recommendations with the aim of ensuring that any legislation passed by Congress effectively contributes to global bear conservation.

There is little question that most populations of the world's eight bear species have experienced significant declines during this century, particularly in parts of Europe and Asia. Habitat loss has been the major reason for this decline, although overhunting has also been a factor in some cases, especially in Asia. In recent years, the commercial trade of bear body parts, particularly gall bladders, for use in traditional Asian medicines has been implicated as the driving force behind the illegal hunting of some bear populations. Although substantive evidence linking widespread poaching to such trade is scant, analyses by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TRAFFIC, and other organizations have documented the existence of illicit commercial markets and smuggling rings for bear body parts. While the scope and impact of this trade on bear populations is not known, recent analyses suggest that the consumer market for wild bear body parts may have declined in recent years. However, the relatively high value of wild bear parts, particularly viscera, on the international market warrants that continued action be taken to minimize the threat or potential threat of illegal trade.

Fortunately, bear populations in North America, particularly those of the American black bear, remain among the healthiest in the world. In spite of occasional documented reports of illegal trade in black bear body parts associated with the traditional Asian medicine trade, state wildlife management authorities indicate black bear populations are generally stable or increasing throughout the country, in some cases dramatically. With the exception of the Louisiana and possibly Florida subspecies, the American black bear is not considered threatened or endangered. Further, there is no indication that these populations have been negatively impacted by poaching for commercial trade. While populations of the grizzly bear and polar bear receive federal protection because of their more precarious status, there is very little evidence of trade in their body parts for Asian medicinal markets and a link between illegal hunting and commercial medicinal trade.

Although specific information on the scope and impact of trade is lacking, the biannual Conference of the Parties to CITES in June 1997 recognized the potential threat of illicit trade in bear parts and adopted a resolution, cosponsored by the U.S., urging the 143 CITES member nations to strengthen their enforcement of bear trade controls, eliminate illegal markets for bear products, engage all stakeholders to help reduce illegal trade, and otherwise improve the implementation of CITES bear trade controls. CITES stopped short of advocating a complete ban on the trade of parts from Appendix II-listed bears, but singled out the Asian bear species -- most of which are listed on Appendix I -- as in particular need of conservation action and funding.

The American black bear is listed on Appendix II of CITES due to similarity of appearance to other listed bear species, and conservation and management of the black bear remains largely in the hands of the states and Canadian provinces. Most states already prohibit the commercial trade in bear parts, but seven (Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming) apparently still allow commercial trade of products from bears taken within their borders. Several other states do not explicitly prohibit the commercial trade in parts from bears taken within the borders of other jurisdictions. Although there is concern that inconsistent state laws may facilitate illegal trade and laundering of bear parts, there is little evidence to indicate that this is a major or widespread problem.

Given the above information, WWF urges the Committee to consider the following recommendations in its deliberations over the proposed Bear Protection Act:

Findings. The proposed legislation does not reflect the most up-to-date information on the conservation and legal status of the world's eight bear species, current knowledge of the illegal bear trade, and recent actions undertaken by CITES to address the problem. We recommend that such information be referenced in the Findings section of the bill and be elaborated fully in the legislative report.

Review of the Illegal Bear Trade in the United States. Most information on the illegal trade of bear parts in the United States is based on anecdotal information and there is a clear need to better define the issue. To do this effectively, we believe it is necessary to undertake a broad review of the trade, to accurately assess problem areas so that enforcement resources can be appropriately applied. We recommend that the proposed Bear Protection Act direct the Department of the Interior to conduct, in cooperation with state fish and wildlife agencies, an assessment of the illegal trade in bear viscera in the United States and its impact on wild bear populations in North America and elsewhere, and examine the links of such activities to the Asian medicinal trade. Such data are essential to responsible trade control and enforcement. The legislation also should authorize the funding needed to undertake such an assessment.

Prohibitions. While we recognize that the federal government has an appropriate role to play in controlling the import and export of wildlife products, particularly for CITES or federally-listed species, we question the need at this point for broad prohibitions on interstate trade and commercialization of bear products, pending the outcome of a review as outlined above. As noted previously, most states with bear populations have already enacted legislation to control bear trade. We urge Congress to consider providing the Interior Department with the authority to impose broader trade restrictions, but only if further analysis indicates that such action is warranted. A similar approach is embodied in the African Elephant Conservation Act, and was effectively employed by the US to address the illegal ivory trade in the late 1980s.

Funding for Enforcement. Strengthened enforcement is essential to achieving the long-term aims of the proposed Bear Protection Act, yet the draft legislation does not authorize any funding to ensure that new trade control measures can be adequately implemented. Without additional funding, this legislation will provide little new protection for the world's bears. Should the Bear Protection Act go forward, we urge that monies for such activities be authorized as a matter of priority.

Funding for Conservation of Endangered Bear Species. The aim of the Bear Protection Act is to ensure the long-term viability of the world's eight bear species and to perpetuate healthy populations of American bears. Yet the proposed legislation does nothing to directly aid conservation of the world's most endangered bear species. We strongly urge the Bear Protection Act to include a provision authorizing specific funding to support priority conservation activities for endangered bears. Such action has been recommended by CITES, and is essential to achieving long-term viability of bear populations globally. In moving to enact stricter trade measures, we believe that the US also has a responsibility to directly assist other countries in the conservation of the most endangered bear species.

The Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998

World Wildlife Fund is well aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has accumulated an enormous volume of forfeited and abandoned wildlife products, despite measures to use and distribute such products in educational and scientific programs. We appreciate that the costs of shipping, storing and distributing these products can be substantial, and that the funding required for such activities can compete with funding needed for higher priority activities such as wildlife enforcement and education.

WWF strongly supports and encourages the Service to continue, and where possible expand, educational initiatives that utilize forfeited and abandoned wildlife products, such as the Suitcase for Survival and Cargo for Conservation programs, with which WWF and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association have collaborated. WWF sees such educational efforts as the best and most appropriate means to dispose of forfeited and abandoned wildlife goods. It is critically important to educate present and future wildlife consumers about the detrimental effects of illegal wildlife trade on endangered and threatened species, and using forfeited wildlife products to deliver this message can be a powerful tool.

Two points remain clear, however. First, these important programs operate successfully only at a substantial cost to the Service, and second, even with such programs, a large surplus of forfeited and abandoned wildlife goods will, unfortunately, likely remain.

WWF sees the potential benefits to the Fish and Wildlife Service of selling certain forfeited and abandoned wildlife products made from non-endangered species, if the proceeds of such sale can be directed back into educational, scientific, and other conservation-related activities. At the same time, we recognize that selling certain forfeited and abandoned wildlife could potentially stimulate a market for such wildlife, which is not in the interest of the Service nor the species concerned. We therefore recommend that Congress direct the Service to use caution and prudence when proceeding with such sales, including evaluating affected species listed under Appendix II of CITES and species which may be legally protected in countries which are part of the natural range.

I want to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that WWF strongly opposes the sale under any circumstances of any wildlife or wildlife products made from species listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or Appendix I of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). If such sale is not in violation of the strict letter of these laws and agreements, it would clearly undermine their intent, and potentially threaten the survival of the affected species.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, WWF is concerned that, in its current form, the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998 allows the use of revenue to pay only for conducting wildlife sales and the costs associated with the storage and shipment of forfeited and abandoned wildlife. While we appreciate that this is the main intent of the legislation, we suggest that a provision be made for using any excess revenues above and beyond the costs of sale, storage, and shipping for other related conservation and educational activities.

WWF therefore recommends that the Committee consider the following in its deliberations over the proposed legislation:

We recommend that the Fish and Wildlife Service develop a formal system of evaluating options and setting priorities for disposal of forfeited and abandoned wildlife that takes into account possible uses for educational, scientific, and Native American religious purposes, and encourages such uses as the preferred means of disposal; and which also evaluates on a taxa-specific basis the conservation and legal status of affected species in their country of origin. We believe that special scrutiny should be used for species that would generally be allowed legally into U.S. commerce, but which might be subject to certain protections or conservation measures in parts of their range.

We suggest that language be added that clearly specifies that the sale of species listed on CITES Appendix I, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act or Migratory Bird Treaty Act will not be allowed.

We recommend that language be added that would allow for the use of any excess revenues generated by an auction for related conservation or educational purposes, perhaps through the creation of a special fund.

The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1998

Populations of neotropical songbirds such as wood warblers, vireos, and orioles continue to decline across North America. Some 90 species are listed endangered or threatened in the United States, while another 124 species are considered to be of high conservation concern. The primary reasons for these declines are habitat loss and degradation. Since neotropical migrants range across numerous international borders, successful conservation depends on protecting them at both ends of the migratory routes ( in their wintering grounds in the tropics and subtropics and in their northern breeding habitat areas -- as well as at critical stopover sites along the way.

The proposed Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act would provide much-needed support for projects aimed at protecting critical habitat for declining migratory bird species, in an innovative way that promotes conservation partnerships and cost-sharing through joint federal and non-federal support mechanisms. Projects funded under the new law would be aimed at enhancing the conservation of migratory bird species in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a special emphasis on reversing habitat loss and degradation. Projects also would include mechanisms to ensure adequate local public participation and consultation with appropriate local government officials and entities. World Wildlife Fund believes these approaches are essential for effective conservation of threatened migratory bird species in both the southern and northern hemispheres.

World Wildlife Fund supports passage of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act as an important new tool for establishing protection regimes for crucial habitat areas for migratory bird species in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the same time, we would note that, while loss of wintering habitat in tropical wintering grounds and destruction of feeding and resting sites along migration routes are contributing significantly to the decline of many species, recent studies suggest that a major contributor to the decline of neotropical migrants is the scarcity of habitat where bird populations can breed in sufficient numbers to maintain populations. Over the vast landscapes of eastern North America, for example, only a few sites are large enough to allow bird populations to maintain positive rates of reproduction. The vast majority of land in the region consists of forest blocks that are so small, fragmented, or isolated that most bird nests suffer very high egg and nestling mortality from small predators, or from intensive parasitism by cowbirds. The highest mortality rates are associated with forest edges; only in larger forest blocks is there sufficient core habitat buffered from high predation and parasitism.

Maintaining larger blocks of intact forest as "source pools" for migratory species thus increasingly appears to be an important strategy for conserving migratory songbirds across North America. Key forest blocks acting as significant breeding areas for migratory songbirds need to be identified, the threats to them analyzed, and areas with the potential for habitat restoration and regeneration defined. World Wildlife Fund urges the Committee to consider this in deliberations over the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and to allow for habitat protection and research efforts in North America to be supported as part of any new legislative initiative.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today. Mr. Chairman, I will be happy to answer any questions.