Wildlife smuggling

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South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Wildlife smuggling awareness campaign welcome, but laws and enforcement must also keep pace with poachers


South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board


October 12, 2007


ISSUE: Exotic species threaten native wildlife.


South Florida has invested plenty in Everglades restoration efforts, a wetlands reclamation project largely aimed at protecting the sawgrass prairies, mangrove forests and hammock oases of the famed River of Grass. But maybe it’s time to focus more attention on the plight of native species.


A videotaped, almost made-for-YouTube encounter between a python and an alligator a couple years ago, plus the gruesome discovery of the carcasses of another python and alligator last year, raised awareness of what could be an ecological nightmare. Namely, exotic species invading turf needed by threatened and fragile native animals.


Floridians, and U.S. taxpayers, are painfully learning how vulnerable some ecosystems are. The Everglades and surrounding wetlands are among the most sensitive, and the introduction of even minimally competitive foreign animals and plants could cause chaos in the food chains.


How does exotic wildlife get a foothold? The suspicion is the foreign species are legally bought by pet owners, who then carelessly and recklessly let them loose in the wild once they can’t maintain their upkeep. There are also folks who obtain their exotic pets illegally from smugglers.


The State Department’s public awareness campaign is welcome. But it’s evident that tougher regulations and enforcement is necessary.


For starters, it’s time state and federal laws ban the legal sale of some species to the public, and better regulate others. Second, Washington has to increase the number of agents it has on guard at key entry points, such as South Florida‘s ports. It would also help if Congress revisited federal laws against wildlife smuggling to stiffen fines and punishment against those who smuggle exotic animals and reptiles into the United States.


Greater watchfulness would allow U.S. agents to snag crooks smuggling poached products, including turtle eggs, setting a standard for the rest of the world. That would help State Department efforts to get other countries, including China, to improve their wildlife policing efforts.


BOTTOM LINE: Public awareness efforts necessary, along with stricter laws, enforcement.




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