Pangolins, known as “scaly anteaters,” are the most heavily trafficked animal in the world, as their scales are sold as a traditional folk remedy in Asia.
“They are on the course to extinction if we don’t do something,” said Scott Beckstead of Sutherlin, the senior Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Beckstead is also the campaign director for Save Endangered Animals Oregon, which is a coalition of multiple organizations working on an Oregon ballot measure to prohibit the sale and purchase of any part or product of 12 types of endangered animals, namely pangolins, elephants, tigers, sea turtles, rhinoceros, whales, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and shark and ray species.
In the 2015 legislative session, Beckstead said the coalition tried to pass a bill to ban trafficking of ivory and rhino horns, but the House of Representatives didn’t pass it.
“The legislature had its shot and didn’t get it done despite overwhelming support for the measure,” Beckstead said.
Going back to the drawing board, Beckstead looked at how Washington passed a similar ballot measure and thought Oregon could do so as well.
Save Endangered Animals Oregon filed a petition with the Secretary of State regarding the proposed measure, which would have violators face felony-level fines.
It includes some exemptions to avoid unintended consequences. For example, it allows for ivory antiques that are 100 or more years old, musical instruments that have a small amount of ivory and ivory used by tribes in which it’s part of their culture. It wouldn’t be illegal to possess, gift, inherit or donate the animal parts, but selling and buying them would be banned.
“We’re trying to eliminate the commercial market because when the demand stops, the killing stops too,” Beckstead said.
He said the measure is popular across all major demographic groups.
“When you talk to people who care about animals, they often list the poaching crisis as one of their top concerns,” Beckstead said. “This measure gives them an opportunity to do something to help endangered animals that are heavily trafficked.”
Volunteers are tasked to gather 88,000 signatures by July 8 to get on the November 2016 ballot. The coalition is shooting for 126,000 names.
Jim Riungu has been involved in WildlifeDirect, a nonprofit in Kenya to conserve elephants and rhinos and fight against wildlife crime. The organization took part in the two largest ivory cases in Kenya.
WildlifeDirect is meant to build the capacity of Kenya’s government to respond to wildlife crime through training prosecutors, helping government agencies collect evidence, educating people about the need to conserve and communicating the plight that the animals are going through.
Riungu said 30,000 elephants are killed on the African continent every year, which is one every 15 minutes.
Currently studying animal law at Lewis and Clark Law School, Riungu said he likes that the Oregon ballot measure covers a large number of species that face extinction due to the poaching.
After completing the program at Lewis and Clark, Riungu plans to go back to Kenya and continue educating people about this issue.
“I believe the key to saving some of these species is an educated citizenry,” Riungu said. “People need to know about this issue.”
It’s not just about saving endangered animals, Riungu said. It’s about saving human lives as well. In the past decade, Africa lost more than 1,000 rangers who were killed while protecting wildlife.
It’s also an economic issue, as tourists come to Kenya to see the wildlife.
“If we lose wildlife, we lose tourism,” Riungu said. “Wildlife tourism revenue fell almost by half last year.”
Beckstead said the Oregon Zoo Foundation and Oregon Coast Aquarium are strongly on board with the ballot measure. While Wildlife Safari doesn’t condone illegal harvesting or poaching of any species, the local nonprofit isn’t taking an official stance on the measure itself.
“Due to the ambiguous nature of such measures, Wildlife Safari, as an organization, does not take a potentially premature position on them,” wrote Jacob Schlueter, the marketing director, in an email. “Some iterations of proposed laws and ballot measures have the possible unintended consequence of severely hindering Wildlife Safari’s ability to provide mission-critical education to the public on the ecological dangers of poaching and the illegal harvesting of animals.”
To learn more about the measure, visit www.saveanimalsoregon.com.
Reporter Emily Hoard can be reached at 541-957-4217 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.