STATEMENT BY THE HONORABLE JIM SAXTON, CHAIRMAN
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES CONSERVATION, WILDLIFE AND OCEANS
AT THE SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE HEARING
ON THE ASIAN ELEPHANT CONSERVATION ACT
NOV. 4, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have this opportunity to testify today in strong support of the Asian Elephant Conservation Act.

I introduced the House version of this legislation with a number of my colleagues on June 4th of this year. It is modeled after the highly successful African Elephant Conservation Act, which has funded over 50 conservation projects in 17 range states throughout Africa.

Mr. Chairman, based on the evidence, it is clear that these projects, worth more than $15 million in Federal and private matching funds, have been instrumental in stopping the demise of African elephants.

In my judgment, it is time we provided a similar lifeline of relief to Asian elephants. In fact, the population of Asian elephants is far more imperiled than their African cousins. There are now only 40,000 Asian elephants living in the wild in 13 countries in South and Southeast Asia. While there are many reasons for this decline, including loss of habitat, poaching, use in Burma's timber industry, and conflicts between elephants and man, unless some immediate action is taken, this species will largely disappear from most of its habitat outside India.

This legislation was the subject of a comprehensive public hearing before my Subcommittee on July 31st. While we heard from a number of diverse witnesses, the consensus view was that the bill would "send a strong message to the world that the people of the United States cared deeply about Asian elephants, and the U.S. Government is committed to helping preserve this keystone species".

After completing this hearing, H.R. 1787 was unanimously reported from the Resources Committee, and it passed the House of Representatives without objection on October 21st.

Under the terms of this legislation, Congress would create an Asian Elephant Conservation Fund that would be authorized to receive up to $5 million per year to finance various conservation projects for each of the next five fiscal years.

The Secretary of the Interior would carefully evaluate the merits of each proposed conservation project, select those that best enhance the future of the Asian elephant, and give priority to those projects whose sponsors demonstrate the ability to match some portion of Federal funds. In addition, the bill stipulates that the Secretary may accept donations to assist Asian elephants and shall spend no more than three percent of the amount appropriated to administer the Fund.

Mr. Chairman, we must not allow the Asian elephant, which has such a direct impact on so many other species, like the clouded leopard, rhinoceros, and tiger, to become extinct. The goal of H.R. 1787 is to stop the decline and hopefully rebuild the population stocks of this irreplaceable species by financing, with a small amount of Federal money, a limited number of conservation projects.

While not an exact list, it is likely that these projects could include efforts to update population figures, assist in anti-poaching efforts, translocate highly endangered elephants, develop improved conservation management plans, and educate the public in range states about the value of this flagship species.

Although there are only a few days left in this session, it is essential that you move this legislation forward so that the President can sign it into law this year. It takes time for even the best conservation projects to be written and reviewed, and it is critical that Asian elephants be included within the Administration's FY'99 budget request.

This species can ill afford to be decimated for another year and, as someone who has spent his life committed to conservation, I am confident that you, Mr. Chairman, will provide the leadership necessary to accomplish our goal.

The road to extinction is a one-way street and we must work to ensure that the Asian elephant does not make that journey on our watch. I urge you to act favorably on H.R. 1787.

Finally, as a cosponsor of H.R. 39, I support the reauthorization of the African Elephant Conservation Act. This law has been tremendously successful, and this Fund has been the only continuous source of new money for elephant conservation efforts. It is essential that this landmark Act be extended either now or early next year.

Mr. Chairman, again, I want to express my appreciation to you and the other members of this Committee for the chance to testify on the Asian Elephant Conservation Act.