GOP Senator Hunts for Info on Elephant-Poaching

Louisiana’s David Vitter asks U.S. agency whether foreign government officials are involved.

It's a good week to be a Republican.
National Journal
Billy House
May 13, 2014, 11:10 a.m.

Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter is ask­ing U.S. con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials wheth­er they have evid­ence link­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from United Ar­ab Emir­ates or oth­er Middle East­ern coun­tries to the il­leg­al poach­ing of Afric­an ele­phants — and the ex­tent of bribery or oth­er pub­lic cor­rup­tion in­volved.

In a let­ter to the head of the Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice, Dan Ashe, the Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an ex­plains that he is search­ing for a “bet­ter un­der­stand­ing” of the situ­ation on the ground in Zi­m­b­ab­we and Tan­zania — and what ex­actly the U.S. gov­ern­ment is do­ing to as­sist pro­tec­tion of the Afric­an ele­phant in those coun­tries.

Vit­ter, the rank­ing mem­ber on the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, has of­ten joined oth­er con­ser­vat­ives in char­ging that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion uses the En­dangered Spe­cies Act to — in his words — stomp on the prop­erty rights of Amer­ic­ans.

At the same time, Vit­ter has in­sisted that he strongly sup­ports pro­tect­ing en­dangered spe­cies and fra­gile eco­sys­tems. In the plight of Afric­an ele­phants, he has found a cause.

A Vit­ter spokes­man, Luke Bolar, ex­plained Tues­day that the sen­at­or’s in­quiry about activ­it­ies of for­eign-gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials res­ults from “some things that have been brought to the sen­at­or’s at­ten­tion” and that he is “just try­ing to get more de­tails.” The Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice has not yet re­spon­ded to his let­ter, dated Monday.

Ele­phant-poach­ing, much of it car­ried out by or­gan­ized crim­in­al gangs tied to the il­leg­al ivory trade, has ris­en sharply in Africa in re­cent years. In Tan­zania, for in­stance, the slaughter has reached such alarm­ing rates that its ele­phant pop­u­la­tion could be wiped out in sev­en years, con­ser­va­tion ex­perts told a United Na­tions con­fer­ence as re­cently as last week.

“There is ab­so­lutely no ques­tion about the dev­ast­a­tion that il­leg­al poach­ing is caus­ing some of our most icon­ic spe­cies,” Vit­ter told Ashe. “It is im­per­at­ive that we find the best means for­ward to pre­vent il­leg­al poach­ing in Africa and to mit­ig­ate ad­di­tion­al threats to the sur­viv­al of the ele­phant.”

Vit­ter re­ques­ted in­form­a­tion on what the U.S. knows about wheth­er “bribery or oth­er in­ap­pro­pri­ate fin­an­cial trans­ac­tions” are en­cour­aging poach­ing, wheth­er Middle East­ern in­vestors are in­volved, and wheth­er there are any “for­eign ad­vert­ising cam­paigns” that pro­mote poach­ing of pro­tec­ted or en­dangered spe­cies, in­clud­ing the Afric­an ele­phant, from Zi­m­b­ab­we or Tan­zania.

“Giv­en the re­search you have done in re­gards to glob­al cor­rup­tion on these is­sues, have you dis­covered or ac­quired evid­ence that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials with­in the United Ar­ab Emir­ates or oth­er Middle East­ern gov­ern­ments have been in­volved in ef­forts to har­vest Afric­an ele­phants in large num­bers that are un­sus­tain­able?” Vit­ter asked.

Vit­ter’s let­ter fol­lows an April 4 an­nounce­ment by Fish and Wild­life that it was sus­pend­ing im­ports of sports-hunted Afric­an ele­phant trophies taken dur­ing 2014 from Zi­m­b­ab­we and Tan­zania. “Ques­tion­able man­age­ment prac­tices, a lack of ef­fect­ive law en­force­ment and weak gov­ernance have res­ul­ted in un­con­trolled poach­ing and cata­stroph­ic pop­u­la­tion de­clines of Afric­an ele­phants in Tan­zania,” the agency said.

“In Zi­m­b­ab­we, avail­able data, though lim­ited, in­dic­ate a sig­ni­fic­ant de­cline in the ele­phant pop­u­la­tion. An­ec­dot­al evid­ence, such as the widely pub­li­cized pois­on­ing last year of 300 ele­phants in Hwange Na­tion­al Park, sug­gests that Zi­m­b­ab­we’s ele­phants are also un­der siege,” the an­nounce­ment said.

“Ad­di­tion­al killing of ele­phants in these coun­tries, even if leg­al, is not sus­tain­able and is not cur­rently sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­forts that con­trib­ute to­wards the re­cov­ery of the spe­cies,” the an­nounce­ment said.

What We're Following See More »
FIRST CHANGE IN FOUR DECADES
Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

Source:
NO MORE INDEPENDENT VOTERS?
GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Source:
LEVERAGE
Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Source:
EFFECTIVE NEXT MONTH
House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.

Source:
LOST BY HALF A PERCENTAGE POINT
Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.

Source:
×