Statement of Kristin L. Vehrs, Deputy Director, American Zoo and Aquarium Association
on S. 2094, the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998
S. 361, the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act
H.R. 3113, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Reauthorization Act
S. 263, Bear Protection Act

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: My name is Kristin Vehrs. I am the Deputy Director of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), and Director of the Government Affairs Department. I have over nineteen years of experience working for the public display community.

The AZA is a professional organization representing 184 accredited zoological parks, aquariums, oceanariums, and wild animal parks in North America. The majority of our institutional members are located in the United States. In addition, AZA represents 4800 individuals, most of whom are employed by our zoo and aquarium members. In 1997, over 122 million people visited AZA member zoos and aquariums -- more than those who attended professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey games combined.

The AZA appreciates the opportunity to testify before the Committee on four bills: S. 2094, the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998; S. 361, the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act; H.R. 3113, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Reauthorization Act; and S. 263, Bear Protection Act.

I would like to thank this Committee for its leadership and the concern it has shown for the conservation of endangered and threatened species, in particular African and Asian elephants, tigers and rhinos. I especially thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Kempthorne, and other members of the Committee for approving the reauthorization of the African Elephant Conservation Act in June, and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act last fall.

S. 2094, the Fish and Wildlife Revenue Enhancement Act of 1998

AZA understands that the new authority in S. 2094 does not change any FWS authority related to the current practices of the National Wildlife Property Repository, -- to dispose of appropriate products through "loan,, gift, sale or destruction." S. 2094 would allow the FWS to retain all proceeds from already-authorized and future sales of wildlife materials it obtains in the course of implementing existing laws for the costs of handling and disposing of the materials (e.g. shipping, storage, appraisals, auction expenses), as well as for other already-authorized purposes such as processing and shipping eagle feathers to Native Americans for religious purposes. Currently, FWS may use proceeds from sales of wildlife items for rewards and for some storage costs, but not for defraying the costs of the sales themselves.

While AZA has not formally endorsed S. 2094, our organization and our membership strongly support the continued availability of fish and wildlife related items from the Repository for educational programs. The AZA, EWS, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Samsonite have a cooperative educational effort entitled Suitcase for Survival. It is an extremely popular educational tool for our member zoo and aquariums. Since its inception in 1991, the Suitcase for Survival Program has reached millions of school children throughout North America, and, as of 1997, there were 187 suitcases in circulation with a long waiting list for more suitcases.

"Suitcase for Survival" is designed to teach school children how the illegal trade in endangered animal products has contributed to bringing many species dose to the edge of extinction. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums loan the suitcases, packed with confiscated wildlife products and educational materials, to teachers who have completed a special training course. This program gives AZA, its members, and schools throughout the country the opportunity to teach a whole new generation about the choices they make, and the effects their choices have on the world around them. We want them to understand that their consumer decisions give them the power to impact the future of an entire species.

The AZA believes it is very important that FWS continue to make these items available to museums, zoos, and schools for scientific and educational purposes.

S. 361, the Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act

As this Committee is well aware, the situation facing all species of tigers and rhinos in the wild has reached crisis levels. Since the 1940's, three tiger subspecies -- the Caspian, Bali, and Javan -- have become extinct, and the South China tiger are now among the most highly endangered mammals on earn Ninety-five percent of the tiger population has disappeared since the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed India, Indochina, and other parts of Asia. Today, fewer than 7,000 tigers are left in the wild, and those numbers continue to drop. While pressure from an expanding human population and the development of natural resources to supply booming economies have attributed to a decline in worldwide dyer populations, poaching has clearly taken center stage since the 1980s as the primary reason for the decline of these magnificent animals

According to Joshua Ginsberg of the Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the illegal market for the Siberian tiger which, combined with an improved standard of living for millions of Asian consumers, has increased the demand for expensive tiger products. However, recognizing the problem and solving it are two very different things, as many of my colleagues have come to realize. In the past decade alone, one-quarter of the world's wild tiger population may have been killed to supply an international black market tiger parts, despite a 20-year ban under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The situation facing the three Asian and two African rhino species is also very serious. Populations were abundant and rather widely distributed in Asia through the middle of the 19th century. Today, fewer than a total of 500 Sumatran rhinos and 100 Java rhinos remain in the wild. In Africa, black rhino populations have declined by 96% over the past two decades due to poaching for the trade in traditional medicines and dagger handles. Approximately 13,000 rhinoceros are left in the wild and these numbers are far from stable. Conservation biologists believe that a population of at least 2,000-3,000 of each species is necessary for long-term viability. Most of the species of rhino are far below this viability level. While poaching for the horn is the major threat for all five species, habitat degradation is also a significant threat for the Asian species due to unsustainable exploitation of timber and conversion of land to agriculture and other human uses.

Stopping the demand for rhinoceros horn and tiger parts in light of 1000 years of proven traditional Asian medicinal practices, and a strong cultural affinity for tiger bone and rhino horn, is extremely difficult. For far too long, the United States has allowed a weakness in current trade controls that makes it relatively easy to sell rhino and tiger products in the United States.

The AZA strongly believes solving this serious problem requires a two-pronged attack. We would like a bill to be passed to prohibit the import into or export from the United States of any product labeled as or actually containing any species of tiger or rhinoceros. While such a bill would not affect the market within Asia, it would stop the significant importation of rhino and tiger products into the United States. According to recent reports by the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, more than 50 percent of all retail stores in North America Chinatowns continue to sell illegal endangered species products despite the twenty-year ban. The bill also would eliminate the expensive and time-consuming laboratory testing necessary to determine if a confiscated product contains ingredients originating from rhinos or tigers.

AZA believes a Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Bill will reinforce the historical role the United States has played in combating the illegal trade of animals and animal parts. Combining such a bill with the tools available in the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, and the actions the U.S. took against China and Taiwan in 1994 under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act for engaging in trade of tiger parts and rhino horn will tighten the grip around the worldwide illegal trade of rhinoceros horn and tiger parts.

Turning to the specific bills before the Committee, we would like to see a new version combining the preferable parts of both bills. Although we inherently prefer the broader approach taken by S. 361 to prohibit the importation of any product labled as containing any species of fish or wildlife listed in Appendix I of CITES, we understand that the narrower language contained in H.R. 2807 is the more saleable for now. Since there are specific problems that can be cited with importation of tiger and rhino parts, we can support the narrower language.

We believe the best vehicle for a Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act is to amend the Rhino and Tiger Conservation Act as is proposed in H.R. 2807.

Finally, regarding the penalties proposed in H.R. 2807, AZA realizes that some Members of the Committee are concerned with the enforcement language is too extreme, in particular, authorizing the seizure of equipment, vessels, vehicles, etc. The AZA would be willing to work with you and the Committee to resolve this issue.

Mr. Chairman, AZA believes it is critical that a bill move forward to the Senate floor this session. The World Wildlife Fund/Wildlife Conservation Society document referenced above clearly illustrates that Congress needs to give FWS the tools necessary to prevent further illegal products from entering this country.

I'd like to outline some of the activities AZA members undertake in educating the public about the harmful effects of purchasing rhino and tiger products. On a daily basis, our members educate millions of visitors about the devastating effects of development on the critical habitat for these two highly endangered species, and the long-term consequences of purchasing products that claim to contain rhino or tiger parts. Educating the public about its individual actions is an essential part of stopping the existing illegal trade, and of keeping tigers and rhinoceros from going the way of the Dodo bird.

Last year, AZA unveiled a new traveling exhibit designed to promote the survival of the tiger. The AZA "Save The Tiger, Traveling Exhibit, Tigers in Crisis" is designed to educate people about tigers, the problems they face as an endangered species, and the efforts zoos and other organizations are making to conserve them. Funded by the Exxon Save the Tiger Fund Program of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the display consists of five free standing kiosks attached to dramatic life-size tiger cut-outs. Highlighted with magnificent photography and hands-on interactive elements, each kiosk tells a different chapter in the life story of tigers, relates what's being done to help them, and offers the public the opportunity to get involved in tiger conservation. Between January 1998 and September 2000, the exhibit will have visited nine AZA zoos across the country, allowing for millions of visitors to become better educated on the plight of tigers.

The zoos and aquariums of AZA have also greatly expanded their conservation responsibilities well beyond their gates. AZA members are involved in field conservation programs on every continent, including rhinoceros and tiger field conservation programs in Asia and Africa. For example, the AZA Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) works continuously with Indonesian wildlife authorities in developing their Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species, benefiting both native rhinoceros and tigers. The Minnesota Zoological Garden has adopted the Ujung Kulon National Park, on the island of Java in Indonesia, to protect the last stronghold of the Javan rhino. A number of AZA institutions have combined their efforts with the International Rhino Foundation in Zimbabwe on several conservation projects to protect the southern black rhinoceros.

For many years, AZA institutions also have had the good fortune to maintain a number of endangered species in their care, giving them the opportunity to develop successful techniques in veterinary care, reproductive technology, genetic analysis, population management, disease control, and tracking animals' movements using technology such as radio or satellite telemetry that have been transferred to use in the field. In essence, AZA zoos and aquariums have become the classrooms for field conservation.

H.R. 3113, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Reauthorization Act

The AZA strongly supports the reauthorization of the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act. The AZA believes the Rhinoceros and Tiger Fund has already proven itself effective for critical conservation programs in Africa for the highly endangered northern white and southern black rhinoceros, and for developing workshops in India and Indonesia for improving enforcement programs. Like the African Elephant Conservation Fund -- a recognized successful public-private partnership -- this fund is designed to deliver immediate results by assisting conservation organizations on the front lines in saving animals from extinction. Field conservation work and anti-poaching efforts are critical to saving these species. These funds, which must be shared among tiger programs in over ten countries and programs for five species of rhinos, have kept, and will continue to keep, several important conservation efforts moving forward.

AZA believes its ability to educate 122 million visitors annually -- including 10 million students as part of their classroom and summer camp activities -- with our expanding field conservation programs, has placed us in the forefront of wildlife conservation education. AZA and its members institutions will continue to work with the FWS and Congress in combating the senseless destruction of these magnificent animals.

S. 263, Bear Protection Act

Most populations of the world's eight bear species have experienced significant declines during this century. Habitat loss and overhunting in certain countries has also played a critical role in the demise of many Asian bear populations in particular. While the scope and impact of the trade on bear populations is not clearly known, the relatively high value for their parts, particularly gall bladder and bile, on the international market warrants that action be taken to minimize the threat or potential threat of illegal trade. In spite of this, black bear populations in the United States remain among the healthiest in the world.

It is in the context of the U.S. black bear populations that AZA has concerns with S. 263. While we support the broad intent of S. 263 to conserve bear species, we are reluctant to fully support the bill because we believe we do not yet understand the problems facing bears in the U.S. and the connections to global bear conservation. Although the illegal Asian medicinal market poses a threat to the Asiatic bear species, we have not seen evidence to support the claim that bears in the United States are threatened by the demand for bear viscera.

The American black bear is already listed in Appendix II of CITES, and most states already prohibit the commercial trade in bear parts (29). While there are seven states that allow commercial trade of products of bears taken within their borders, some of these bear populations are stable and in some cases may be increasing. The exception is the Louisiana and Florida subspecies. Moreover, AZA is not aware of a consensus among federal officials, state wildlife management agencies, and wildlife protection organizations that a broad ban as suggested by S. 263 is the best course of action for the long-term viability of all species. Although inconsistent state laws may facilitate illegal trade in bear parts, there is not enough convincing evidence to indicate this is a widespread problem.

The AZA, WWF, and National Wildlife Federation share the same concerns and expressed those in a 23 June letter to Chairman Chafee, Senator Kempthorne, Senator McConnell, and Congressman Porter. Our specific recommendations for S. 263 are as follows:

1) Amend the legislation to allow for broad review of the trade -- directed by the Department of Interior and with the assistance of state fish and wildlife agencies -- to accurately assess enforcement practices so that enforcement resources can be appropriately applied. Specific authorization for funding should also be included.

2) Provide the Department of Interior with greater authority to impose trade restrictions, rather than imposing a broad prohibition on interstate trade and commercialization of bear products, pending the outcome of the recommendation. A similar approach is embodied in the African Elephant Conservation Act, and was effectively employed by the U.S. during the 1980s to combat the ivory trade.

3) Include authorization language for enforcement funding to strengthen long-term enforcement goals of the Bear Protection Act.

4) Include a provision in the legislation authorizing specific funding to support conservation programs for endangered bears. This will help to ensure long-term viability of the world's eight bear species and the continuation of the American black bear population.

AZA would be pleased to work with the Committee in developing legislation to contribute to global bear conservation.

Thank you for allowing me to testify on these four important wildlife bills.