Wildlife trafficking – the illegal trade of animal products – is pushing numerous species to extinction around the world. This multibillion-dollar international black market involves indigenous species from many nations, including the U.S., and Washington state is on the front lines in defending against this harmful activity.
Learn more about the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's role in preventing wildlife trafficking.
What is the Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA)?
The Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA) makes it illegal to traffic in animal parts or products from certain international endangered animals. The law makes it a crime to buy, sell, trade, or otherwise distribute these items.
WATA went into effect in 2015, and expands state authority to regulate illicit markets on a local level and provides penalties for noncompliance. WATA provides Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police with the authority to protect certain subspecies of 10 of the world's most illegally traded endangered species:
- Marine turtles
What is WDFW's role in protecting exotic species?
WDFW Police is the primary enforcer of this new law, which represents a significant new responsibility for the agency. The department has detectives that specialize in investigating illegal trade in local natural resources, and officers have a presence at border crossings and marine and air ports.
Implementing the Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA), however, represents additional challenges for the department. Success in protecting endangered and threatened species depends upon bolstering cross-border partnerships, as well as increasing the resources necessary to focus on the problem.
WDFW is seeking ways to increase police officer presence at ports of entry. The department also has applied for grants to purchase two dogs, which can detect contraband. Additionally, WDFW is working to develop partnerships with forensic labs and conservation organizations, as well as with representatives from numerous international and national governments to build support for a coordinated approach to curbing this problem.
The department also is working with the state Legislature to increase resources for the effort.
What animals are covered under WATA?
The law only covers particular species of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, cheetah, pangolin, marine turtle, shark, or ray listed as endangered in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices I and II or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
- The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. The goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES maintains a list of endangered and threatened species, some of which are protected under the Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA).
- The Red List catalogs plants and animals facing a high risk of global extinction and is maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which consists of 1,300 public and private organizations that collaborate with over 16,000 experts. The Red List provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on species facing a high risk of global extinction, some of which are protected under WATA.
Is WATA the only law addressing the illicit trade of fish and wildlife?
In addition to federal law, other state laws already exist that criminalize illegal poaching and trade. Other state laws include:
- RCW 77.15.265, which prohibits the possession of fish, shellfish, or wildlife poached in a jurisdiction outside of Washington;
- RCW 77.15.770, which prohibits the unlawful trade in shark fins; and
- RCW 77.15.260, which prohibits the trafficking in the parts of several species indigenous to the Northwest.
What are some examples of animal parts protected under WATA?
Some examples include elephant tusk -- or ivory -- rhinoceros horn, lion skin, and mounted hunting trophies of tiger, lion, leopard, or cheetah.
Can I give or receive a protected animal part as a gift?
Not unless it falls under the antique or inheritance exceptions or one of the other exceptions discussed within this FAQ.
What is the musical instrument exception?
If a musical instrument contains an animal part that is less than 15 percent by volume of the instrument, the transfer of the instrument is not prohibited.
Can I buy or sell antiques?
The law has an exception for antiques that are at least 100 years old (the owner must provide proof with historical documentation) and the animal part is less than 15 percent by volume of the antique.
Can I leave a protected animal part to someone in my will, or can I inherit it?
Yes, if the animal product is transferred to a legal beneficiary through inheritance upon death.
Can I give a protected animal part to a museum or college?
Yes, if the animal product is transferred for educational or scientific purposes.
What are the penalties for violating WATA?
A person who commits Unlawful Trafficking in Species Threatened with Extinction in the First Degree may be charged with a Class C felony; a person committing Unlawful Trafficking in Species Threatened with Extinction in the Second Degree may be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Both crimes can expose a violator to imprisonment and fines.
In addition, WDFW police officers and ex officio police officers may seize articles they have probable cause to believe have been held with intent to violate or used in violation of the law. The seized property is forfeited to the state.