Washington voters should support an initiative to increase penalties for trade of endangered exotic animals.

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Survival of the northern white rhinoceros has come down to this: in vitro fertilization. After decades of being poached for their valuable horns, only five remain, and the only male, Sudan, is too old to mate naturally, according to a Washington Post report.

The northern white rhino’s plight illustrates the devastation caused by exotic-animal trading and why Washington voters should support Initiative 1401. The proposal would strengthen bans and fines for trafficking products made from 10 endangered or nearly extinct animals — elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, rays and pangolins (known as the scaly anteater).

If the initiative makes it to the November ballot, Washington could become the first state to have a voter-approved law of this kind. That would send a powerful message that Americans are paying attention and care deeply about this international crisis.

The extent of exotic animal trading Washington is unknown, but since 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated more than 50 elephant products entering Washington, in addition to parts of tigers, leopards and other animals.

I-401

I-1401 would expand protections for animals and set trafficking penalties of up to five years of jail time, criminal fines of up to $10,000 and an additional fine of $2,000 for each offense.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is the main proponent and financial contributor to I-1401. According to Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner, Allen learned about the plight of endangered animals after spending time in Africa, and has since donated millions to conservation efforts and owns tourist lodges in Botswana.

Federal law bans import of some exotic-animal products and parts. I-1401 would expand protections for animals and set trafficking penalties of up to five years of jail time, criminal fines of up to $10,000 and an additional fine of $2,000 for each offense. Fines would be earmarked for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to fund enforcement and for rewards for turning in offenders.

Due to poaching, experts estimate only about 450,000 elephants are left worldwide. Each year some 20,000 to 50,000 are killed for their ivory tusks, Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton reported. Poachers can sell a pair of tusks for $3,000, which is more than the average annual salary for many Africans. Traffickers can reap up to $60,000 for tusks in Asia.

Rhino horn runs around $30,000 per pound. For the almost-extinct northern white rhino, conservationists hope they can implant an embryo into a surrogate female of a similar rhino subspecies. Yet, even as this work is being planned, poachers are trying to capture Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, living at a Kenyan conservancy and guarded around the clock.

I-1401 should not be taken as a billionaire’s vanity project. These animals need protection, and Washington’s proposed law could encourage other states to take action.”

I-1401 should not be taken as a billionaire’s vanity project. These animals need protection, and Washington’s proposed law could encourage other states to take action.

Seattle has shown its passion during the recent debate over the fate of Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants. If Chai and Bamboo can stir so much concern, so should the slaughter of thousands of elephants and exotic animals.