What is wildlife trade and crime?
Wildlife trade consists in the sale and/or exchange of wild animals and plants - either live or dead specimens, parts or derivatives, or transformed products. Wildlife trade is not as uncommon as one could think; for example, in the EU the legal trade covers, among other things, reptile skins used in leatherwork, timber transformed into furniture, plants used in medicine, and much more. Wildlife trade occurs at all levels, from local to global. At the international level, it is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), while the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations control trade at the European level.
Wildlife crime is a major environmental crime, and it encompasses any breach of national, regional, or international legislation that protects wildlife species. Hence, it includes illegal wildlife trade, but also illegal killing, poisoning, or poaching of wildlife, as well as the unauthorised alteration or destruction of habitats. Examples of wildlife crime in Europe includes exotic pet species illegally taken from their habitats, sturgeons poached for their caviar, birds of prey and large carnivores poisoned. Of course, wildlife crime harms the environment, but it also negatively affects security, governance, the economy, and ultimately human lives.
What is the role of the EU?
The EU is one of the biggest importers of wildlife species and wildlife-derived commodities in the world, some of which are illegally imported and traded within the Union. Some European species are also legally and illegally traded within and/or out of Europe, or are victims of other forms of wildlife crime.
As the EU is a single trading bloc, wildlife trade - as all other trade - is governed by EU law. In addition, the EU’s voice is influential in international meetings where it can impact on global decisions on wildlife. In particular, it is a major player at CITES meetings where it coordinates as one block, commanding 27 votes out of 183 Parties, sponsoring many proposals, and occupying two of the 16 voting seats on the CITES Standing Committee.
The EU also funds a number of projects within and outside of Europe which support governmental and non-governmental organisations working on wildlife conservation.
What is happening?
- In December 2021, the proposal for a new Environmental Crime Directive was published by the European Commission. After a year of negotiation, Member States adopted a common position on the file, which significantly weakens and reduces the ambition of the law. The Parliament is expected to adopt its own position in the coming month. The file will then be negotiated between the different EU institutions before being formally adopted.
- The European Commission adopted a new Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking in November 2022, which contains promising elements that could effectively support the fight against wildlife trafficking in Europe and beyond. It is now critical for both the European Union and the Member States to properly implement it.
- With CITES CoP19 closing on 25 November 2022, there is now much work needed to protect species newly listed under the Convention, and implement the hundreds of Decisions that were adopted by Parties. All of those will be at the heart of the discussions of the next CITES Animals and Plants Committee meetings (June 2023) and Standing Committee meeting (November 2023).
What is WWF doing?
There are many opportunities to strengthen the EU and Member States’ response to wildlife crime. WWF advocates at European and national levels, via the support of its network of national offices, to make sure that:
- The future Environmental Crime Directive is strong and ambitious enough to effectively step up the fight against environmental crimes, including wildlife crime.
- The future EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking includes the means to fulfil its ambitions, in line with the EU's commitments in its 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, and the priorities of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) 2022-2025 cycle.
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Christian Ziegler / WWF
Hermann’s tortoises, which can be found in the Peloponnese in Greece, are also victims of illegal trade.