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Question of the Week: How Badly do you Want to Stop Animal Trafficking?

Posted  January 17, 2020

Last week, the Department of Justice indicted a New York man, Christopher Casacci, for illegally importing and selling dozens of African wild cats.  Doing business as “ExoticCubs.com,” Casacci brought into the United States and sold dozens of caracals (Caracal caracal) and servals (Leptailurus serval). Caracals, known as the “desert lynx,” are wild cats native to Africa, and grow to approximately 45 pounds. Servals, also wild cats native to Africa, grow to approximately 40 pounds. Casacci was charged with violating the Lacey Act, which bans the illegal trafficking of fish, wildlife, plants, and plant products and the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals by dealers.  Casacci was also charged with disguising his commercial activity by falsely declaring the animals as domesticated breeds, such as savannah cats and bengal cats, on shipping records.

Many wildlife-protection statutes in the United States provide awards for whistleblowers who furnish information to authorities that leads to which lead to the arrest of, or imposition of a penalty against, a violator.  As with the availability of monetary awards for whistleblowers who report fraud against the federal and state governments, securities and commodities fraud, tax fraud, and auto-safety violations, by incentivizing whistleblowers to report violations of the wildlife-protection laws, Congress has repeatedly signaled the importance of protecting animals.

Or has it?  Unlike nearly all whistleblower-reward programs in the United States, the whistleblower-reward scheme under every wildlife-protection law gives the government near-total discretion to determine whether, and in what amount, to award a whistleblower.  As a practical matter, that means most whistleblowers do not get paid awards.  And that, in turn, means that potential whistleblowers—rational individuals who weigh the risks and rewards of stepping up and doing the right thing—don’t actually come forward.  The result is the underenforcement of supposedly important wildlife-protection laws.  This dynamic would very likely change if Congress were to make whistleblower awards mandatory under these laws.

What do you think: Should Congress make whistleblower awards mandatory under our nation’s wildlife-protection laws to properly incentivize whistleblowers to help save endangered animals?

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Tagged in: Environmental Fraud, Importance of Whistleblowers, Question of the Week, Wildlife Fraud,