We are currently in the midst of the greatest extinction crisis since the dinosaurs. Experts estimate that 30-50% of all species could be extinct by 2050. Unfortunately, this crisis is caused by human action—climate change, habitat loss, and, sadly, the cruel trade in wildlife parts and products such as ivory. Currently, 100 African elephants are killed every single day for their tusks.
The United States is the second largest market for parts and products from endangered species after China. As Americans and as Catholics we have a moral obligation to work to end wildlife trafficking. During his historic trip to Africa, Pope Francis urged action against trafficking in ivory, diamonds, and other natural resources: "Illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, rare metals or those of great strategic value, wood, biological material and animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the related killing of elephants, fuels political instability, organised crime and terrorism."
Although federal law prohibits the importation and sale of endangered species across state lines, it cannot prohibit intrastate commerce. This is why several states including California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and New York have recently enacted legislation to prohibit the sales of endangered species parts within their state boundaries.
Recently, Saint Francis Alliance supporters Sister Marie Lucey, Elizabeth Holtz, and Sarah Spengeman testified before the Maryland legislature in support of enacting a ban on the sale of endangered species parts and products in their state. Sister Marie’s testimony included a statement as to why her religious community cares about this issue: “Why should we care about killing of wild animals and its economic impact on vulnerable people in Africa? Franciscans believe that we have a particular responsibility to do all we can to care for creation because St. Francis of Assisi had the deep spiritual insight that all creation exists in close relationship because we are all creatures of our loving Creator. His well-known Canticle of the Creatures praises God through Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Stars, Brother Wind and Air, our Sister Mother Earth. It follows from this relationship that we humans must do all we can to protect and preserve the natural world.”
Sarah Spengeman and Elizabeth Holtz, who both serve on the Saint Francis Alliance Leadership Team, also explained why they supported a ban on the trade of endangered species parts in Maryland: “We are concerned because, as Catholic Christians, we believe God calls us to be caretakers of creation. We also believe that every animal species has something to teach us about God’s goodness and plays an integral role in a well-ordered eco-system. We know that the species protected by this bill are currently suffering greatly at the hands of poachers and are at risk of extinction.”
The Saint Francis Alliance affirms the message of Laudato Si’ that “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves” (33). There are many ways we can work together to care for God’s creatures and to protect endangered species. To see what you can do to prevent wildlife trafficking in the United States visit www.humanesociety.org/issues/wildlife_trade/ or contact your Humane Society of the United States local state director www.humanesociety.org/about/state/.