EU states commit to ending wildlife crime, but critical measures missing

Posted on 20 June 2016

EU Environment Ministers today endorsed an ambitious EU Action Plan to boost the region’s collective efforts to end wildlife trafficking, but the absence of some key commitments could weaken its overall impact and effectiveness.
EU Environment Ministers today endorsed an ambitious EU Action Plan to boost the region’s collective efforts to end wildlife trafficking, but the absence of some key commitments could weaken its overall impact and effectiveness.

The Action Plan was developed to strengthen the EU’s response to the global poaching and illegal wildlife trade crisis and was adopted by the European Commission in February. WWF warmly welcomed the plan but hoped that ministers would support it by endorsing additional concrete commitments on financial resources, national legislative amendments, and reporting – all of which are missing from the final conclusions.

“EU Environment Ministers have demonstrated their desire to crack down on wildlife crime by signing up to this wide-ranging action plan, but they should have been even bolder,” said Sally Nicholson, Head of Development Policy & Finance at WWF European Policy Office. “Ministers failed to pledge the necessary financial and human resources to back up their words and prove they are really serious about fighting wildlife trafficking.”

The EU Action Plan as well as other international commitments requires Member States to legally recognise wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime” and to review relevant national legislation on money laundering. However, not all Member States have taken these steps, so they must do so urgently to ensure that organised wildlife trafficking is punishable by a minimum sentence of at least four years imprisonment.

“Weak punishments are part of the reason wildlife trafficking has become one of the world’s most widespread transnational criminal activities,” said Sally Nicholson. “Increasing sanctions, tackling corruption and making sure wildlife crime is a high priority for law enforcement at EU and national levels are of paramount importance to deter criminals.”

The Environment Minsters’ conclusions do acknowledge that the EU plays an important role not just as a transit point and end market but also as a source region for the trafficking of endangered domestic species. This refers in particular to the European eel and Danube sturgeon species. WWF also welcomes the recognition of the critical role of local communities and civil society in the conservation of wildlife, and the need for their involvement.

With 20,000 elephants being poached in Africa last year as well as a record 1,338 rhinos, EU leadership is critical in the fight to end wildlife crime in Europe and around the world, which threatens not only species but also security and sustainable development.

Member States now need to make sure they fully implement the EU Action Plan and report back on the progress made, especially for the actions to be delivered by the end of 2016. In particular, the EU has an important role to play at the largest ever Conference of the Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg in September. There it will be lobbying for a number of measures that are part of the plan, including better regulation of trade in hunting trophies and measures to address corruption.          

Notes to the editor - Facts & Figures:
  • 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).  It is not just a threat to numerous species, it also threatens rule of law, good governance, well-being of local communities, and sustainable development.
  • 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) 
  • The value of rhino horn at the black market has risen above the price of gold (Europol: Threat Assessment 2013 - Environmental Crime in the EU), and 2015 was a record year in Africa for rhino poaching (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.
Doreen Adongo is a Ranger with the Kenya Wildlife Service in Nairobi National Park - monitoring white rhino in evening light as sun goes down.
© Jonathan Caramanus / Green Renaissance