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Lawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups

Lawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups

Two lawmakers are hoping to draw attention to the problem of illegal wildlife poaching and how it helps fund terror groups.

Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (D-Del.) and Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Midterms in 2018 become most expensive in history Dems target small cluster of states in battle for House MORE (R-Calif.) on Tuesday discussed the issue at an event Tuesday at the United States Institute for Peace.

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“We do have a once in a lifetime chance to change the trajectory here and to improve it,” said Coons.

The two shared their experiences traveling in Africa both in office and before to address the problem. They said the key was for U.S. policy to both protect wildlife and help stabilize African communities.

“I'll never forget a conversation I had ... many years ago with an African leader,” said Coons. The senator said the man asked him: "Who are you to come over here and lecture us about preserving our beautiful, iconic wildlife when your country’s already developed?... I have people who are hungry to keep jobs.”

Coons said one problem with conservation efforts is that they are seen as a “zero sum game.”

"In the end, the pressure is on governments, the pressure is on community leaders who need to meet the needs of families and children,” he added.

Nancy Lindborg, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, praised the two lawmakers.

"These are not armchair experts," she said.

Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while Coons sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and its subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.

Lindborg discussed the scope of the problem, noting that some experts predict both the elephant and rhinoceros will be extinct by 2030.

“Illegal trade in protected wildlife is up to $7 to 10 billion. And we're seeing that this is the money that is getting into the hands groups like Al Shabab and the Lord's Resistance Army,” she said. “These are the issues that are destabilizing, particularly fragile countries.”

Royce's committee has introduced the DELTA Act aims to promote conservation and economic growth in the Okavango River Basin in southwest Africa, a region prone to poachers and seeing the effects of climate change.

The event was also a tribute to Royce who is retiring after almost 27 years in Congress.

Coons praised him as a "remarkable leader."

“He's a real Republican, we disagree on some stuff. But I got to tell you, virtually every time he's had a great idea, it comes over to the Senate, we say, yeah, it's a really great idea, let's get this thing done," he said. "He’s accessible, responsive, he's engaging and that is just in short supply in Congress today."

Royce said there is still a tremendous amount of work" to be done.

“As the United States, if we're not listening to what we hear, and if we're not trying to lend a helping hand on any of these fronts, by the time we're dealing with the consequences, it can be too late,” he told the audience. 

“So this is just an appeal to stay engaged, stay involved, get more involved, get your friends involved. We all have a stake on this one. We're all interconnected. And we should all have the same values in terms of freedom."