Needed EU Action Plan should rank global wildlife trafficking with other serious crimes
Every time I read a report on the state of wildlife, I seem to be faced with the news of yet more dead animals poached for their ivory, skins or other derivatives to feed an unrelenting global market.
The market for species such as elephants has grown to become a massive global industry. Europol has highlighted that revenues generated by the trafficking of endangered species is estimated at 18 to 26 billion euros per year, with the EU used as both a market and transit route for illegal wildlife trade.
Despite this, I have recently become hopeful that European countries can and will play their part in stopping this slaughter. This hope stems from a number of decisions that have been taken recently.
Over the past few months the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering has been looking into the issue of wildlife crime as part of its broader remit.
For many years it has been argued that much of the global illegal trade in wildlife is run by organised crime syndicates that carry out detailed planning; have significant financial support; understand and utilise new information technology; and are often well armed.
Organised crime groups, especially those with smuggling capabilities, find wildlife trafficking attractive because of its low risks, high profits, and weak penalties.
During their investigation, the Committee learned how those involved in high-level drugs trafficking in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have established a notable role in the illegal supply of endangered species to the EU and US markets.
As a result, some of the concealment methods developed for drug trafficking are now used to traffic endangered species. They are also taking advantage of new technologies as they come, with the Internet used with increasing sophistication to facilitate trade. Following their investigation, the Committee voted to include combating wildlife crime into their interim report.
This was just one of a number of recent decisions that have stepped up Europe’s engagement in the war against the poachers and traffickers. The first major step was taken in December 2012, when European member states committed to providing INTERPOL with nearly two million euros to support its efforts to combat wildlife crime.
The environmental crime programme in INTERPOL is a specialist unit, and one which the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been supporting since its inception. The money goes towards implementing a toolkit developed by INTERPOL and its partners to build capacity and resources.
On April 29th 2013, European countries also backed a decision to recognise the illicit trade in wild flora or fauna as a “serious crime” – raising it to the same status as human trafficking and drugs trafficking. Under U.N. rules, characterisation as a “serious crime” can require stiff sentences of four or more years in prison, and will also allow the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to broaden its role in combating the trade.
It is still too soon to know if the Committees' recommendations will be accepted and implemented - the full parliament must vote on the recommendations contained within the report, and IFAW is still calling for stronger concrete actions that the EU can take to combat this crime globally.
Specifically IFAW is calling on the EU to create and implement an ambitious Action Plan against global wildlife trafficking, as it does with other serious crimes such as human trafficking, drugs and terrorism.
So whilst my optimism remains and I welcome this milestone, I will not be celebrating just yet. Instead, I shall be watching carefully and calling on the institutions to adopt and implement a full action plan against wildlife trafficking.