Organised wildlife trafficking to be considered a ‘serious crime’ across EU

Posted on 26 February 2016

European Commission publishes ambitious EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking.
WWF strongly supports the launch of an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking by the European Commission. The Action Plan details a robust set of measures that will allow the EU to fight the illegal trafficking of wildlife products more effectively in the EU and globally.
Poaching has reached unprecedented levels for some species in recent years, and the role of organized criminal groups in wildlife trafficking is increasing. The considerable profits generated, together with a low risk of detection and low sanction levels, explain why wildlife trafficking has become one of the most profitable transnational criminal activities globally.
The EU is both a major destination and a transit point in the global wildlife trade. The European Union and all its Member States are Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), the international treaty which regulates global wildlife trade. CITES is implemented in the EU via a set of EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. However, poor implementation of the existing EU regulations on wildlife trade in some Member States leaves EU borders porous to illegal trade activities.
WWF is very pleased to see that the Action Plan includes measures for all EU countries to consider organised wildlife trafficking a serious crime under the United Nations’ Convention against Transnational Organised Crime with sentences of at least four years imprisonment for those convicted. It also proposes concrete measures to improve capacity and cooperation between the enforcement services within and between EU member states, as well as increasing checks to detect illegal activities.
Every year, tonnes of wildlife plants and animals illegally cross EU borders. While we applaud the European Commission’s strong commitment to stop illegal trafficking, the onus is now on the Member States to make this happen. They have to live up to their responsibility to police the wildlife trade and enforce meaningful sanctions to punish criminals,” said Geneviève Pons, Director at WWF European Policy Office.
Importantly, the European Commission plans to support actions to reduce the demand in wildlife products within and outside the EU, including by involving the business sector that can be complicit in wildlife trade. The key role that rural communities can play in solutions to illegal wildlife trade is also recognised and the EU will support their engagement in the conservation of wildlife and environmentally-friendly livelihoods activities.
Furthermore the EU will play a pivotal role on the international scene by supporting third countries in fighting wildlife trafficking activities and corruption, and supporting bilateral and multilateral agreements.
Wildlife crime is not just a threat to numerous species, it also threatens rule of law, good governance, well-being of local communities, and sustainable development,” concluded Geneviève Pons.
The challenge now is to ensure the Plan is fully implemented. WWF calls on the EU Member States to demonstrate their high-level political commitment, including their endorsement of the Action Plan and calls for the right level of financial and human resources to be put in place for its implementation.
Next steps:

Council conclusions are expected to be adopted at the Environment Council in June 2016. The European Parliament is also expected to adopt a position on the basis of the Commission Action Plan, through an own initiative report.
Facts & figures on Wildlife Trafficking
  • Wildlife crime is estimated to be the 4th largest transnational organised crime after trafficking in drugs, humans and counterfeit goods (Source: Global Financial Integrity 2011). Much of the trade in illegal wildlife products, including fish and timber, is run by sophisticated criminal networks with broad international reach. 
  • The role of organized criminal groups in wildlife trafficking within the EU is increasing, based on the expectation of high profitability with low risk of detection and low sanction levels (Source: Europol: EU Serious and Organized Threat Assessment)
  •  Around 30,000 elephants are poached each year in Africa for their ivory (estimate based on data from ‘Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants’ - CITES Programme) 
  • 2015 was a record year in Africa for rhino poaching with at least 1312 rhinoceros illegally killed (Source: TRAFFIC
  • While the focus is usually on elephants, rhinos and other iconic species, wildlife crime threatens the survival of a wide array of animals and plants including European protected species such as songbirds and eels.
  • See also Wildlife trade in the European Union (TRAFFIC briefing paper, March 2014)
Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis); Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
2015 was a record year in Africa for rhino poaching with at least 1312 rhinoceros illegally killed (source: TRAFFIC)
© Martin Harvey / WWF