Poached ivory isn’t just a problem for other nations. Here in the U.S., more than $75 million in elephant tusks and rhino horns were seized under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act. ©David Luck

There’s a sinister bill making its way through Congress, but you probably don’t know about it.

The reason you don’t know about it is because of its name. It’s called the “SAVES Act” (Saving America’s Endangered Species Act, H.R. 2603). Sounds like it could be a good law, right?

You couldn’t be more wrong. In truth, the SAVES Act will gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and effectively end other regulations that combat wildlife trafficking—such as the U.S. ivory ban and the END Wildlife Trafficking Act, measures that in many cases are the only safeguards that stand between wildlife species and extinction. The SAVES Act would also allow trophy hunters to freely bring animal trophies back to the U.S. and trade their parts here, at home.

The SAVES Act would eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for non-native wildlife, such as mountain gorillas. ©Eric Rock

How does the SAVES Act, then, save the Endangered Species Act?

It should be titled the “HARMS Act”

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas introduced the SAVES Act in the House of Representatives on May 23, 2017. If the bill passes into law, it will eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for species that are non-native to the U.S., such as cheetahs, chimpanzees, elephants, mountain gorillas, giant pandas, tigers and more than 600 other animals and plants. It would severely limit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to regulate wildlife trafficking, greatly undermine the progress the U.S. has made against transnational crime organizations that drive wildlife trafficking, and irreparably damage America’s leadership and credibility on the world stage.

Today, the poaching and illegal trade of non-native species is a multibillion dollar criminal enterprise that is quickly wiping out wildlife populations and financing groups with terrorist affiliations, threatening our nation’s security. Animals or their parts may be sold for tens of thousands of dollars as culinary delicacies, exotic pets, ivory trinkets and traditional medicines with no actual healing properties. Even when these wildlife species are killed or captured and sold overseas, many of them wind up in U.S. black markets.

According to WWF, pandas are still at risk. Severe threats from humans have left little more than 1,800 of the animals in the wild. ©Brad Josephs

Operation Crash is just one example. To date, this nationwide investigation—the undercover work of more than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers—has yielded in excess of 40 arrests, more than 30 convictions, the seizure of elephant tusks and rhino horns worth more than $75 million, and combined prison sentences of more than 34 years—all within U.S. borders.

Without the ESA’s protections for non-native species, Operation Crash would likely never have happened, and many of the perpetrators might still be selling their despicable wares in America.

October 7, 2017, marked the one-year anniversary of the signing into law of the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. Championed by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the END Act had overwhelming bipartisan support. It promoted international cooperation to curb poaching and wildlife trafficking and increased federal penalties for wildlife crimes.


In September 2016, confiscated rhino horn items valued at $1 million on the black market were burned in California.

Under the SAVES Act, the END Act would most likely be ended.

“Redundant regulation” or poaching promoter?

A press release posted on the House Committee on Natural Resources web page reads:

“H.R. 2603, bipartisan Saving America’s Endangered Species Act or SAVES Act, removes duplicative permitting requirements for non-native endangered species. The inclusion of non-native species is outdated, overly burdensome and in fact, works against the very intent of the ESA. Instead of promoting conservation of these international species, the redundant regulation hampers significant nongovernmental resources in our country genuinely seeking to enhance conservation of non-native endangered species through captive breeding programs. Time and time again, in the modern world, we see well-intentioned legislation pit the federal government against the very private citizens who have a vested interest in the preservation of endangered species.”

Previously, Thailand’s wildlife laws only protected domestic species, such as Asian elephants. Thailand soon became the planet’s largest unregulated ivory market: from African elephants. ©Thai National Parks, flickr

By using the phrase “redundant regulation,” proponents of the SAVES Act argue that it’s not necessary to protect non-native species under the Endangered Species Act because they are already protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The problem with that reasoning is that CITES is an international agreement that has no authority over trafficking within our own borders. When protections for international species are eliminated within a nation, endangered species around the world are always the tragic victims.

The experience of Thailand is a case in point. Until recently, Thailand’s wildlife laws only provided for domestic species, which meant that Asian elephants were protected, but African elephants were not. The result was that Thailand became the planet’s largest unregulated ivory market. Once African elephant ivory managed to make it past the border, Thai authorities were powerless to do anything about it, causing ivory markets to flourish.

After more than 30 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle could finally be declared recovered. ©Eric Rock

And in 2016, America’s willingness to tighten domestic ivory regulations under the Endangered Species Act was crucial to securing China’s commitment to putting an end to its own vast ivory market, a driving force behind the elephant poaching crisis.

Don’t be turned by terminology

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act passed the House and Senate by margins that are unthinkable today: 92 to zero in the Senate and 390 to 12 in the House. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, signed the law.

Since then, the ESA has been 99 percent successful at preventing the extinction of listed species. Only nine of the approximately 2,000 species listed under it have gone extinct.


The SAVES Act would severely limit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to regulate wildlife trafficking. So, don’t be swayed by the name. In truth, it should be called the “HARMS Act.”

But critics of the law like to point out that less than 2 percent of the listed species have actually recovered to the point that they can be removed from the list. This is a wrong-minded way of measuring success. It takes time for species to recover; many decades are often required for a comeback to the point where scientists can agree that populations are healthy and in habitats that give them a chance to thrive. The bald eagle, one of the first species to be listed, was declared recovered in 2007—after 34 years of protection. Nearly half of all listed species have been protected for less than 20 years.

It’s clear that SAVES is a giveaway to trophy hunters and wildlife traffickers, disguised as a conservation measure. Don’t be swayed by its name. If you’d like the U.S. to continue to care for wildlife around the globe, make your voice heard.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,