Wildlife trafficking (defined as the illegal cross-border trade in biological resources taken from the wild, including trade in timber and marine species) is not a new phenomenon, but its scale, nature and impacts have changed considerably in recent years. Poaching has reached unprecedented levels for some species, and the world is currently facing a dramatic surge in wildlife trafficking.
On 7 February 2014, the European Commission adopted a Communication and launched a stakeholder consultation on the future EU approach to wildlife trafficking. On 10 and 11 April 2014, the European Commission organized an expert conference, followed by dedicated workshops to discuss how to strengthen enforcement and the fight against organized wildlife crime in the EU and how to make EU support against wildlife trafficking at global level more effective. Based on the results of the stakeholder consultation and the conference, the European Commission will review the existing policies and measures at EU level so as to enable the EU to react more effectively to the current crisis situation.
Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most profitable criminal activities globally, driven by a massive and growing demand for wildlife products, notably in Asia. It is now a multi-billion Euro business, which attracts transnational organised crime networks and which resembles in character and scale other types of global criminal activities, such as trafficking in drugs, human beings, firearms and counterfeit goods. Low levels of awareness about the problem, a low risk of detection and low sanction levels make it particularly lucrative for criminals.
Wildlife trafficking has a serious adverse impact on biodiversity and sustainable development. Emblematic species like elephants, rhinoceroses, great apes, tigers and sharks are particularly affected by wildlife trafficking, to a point where the survival of some of those species in the wild is in jeopardy. Poaching for elephant and rhinoceros has reached its highest levels in recent history, undermining the recovery observed in the last three decades. In addition, wildlife trafficking concerns many more animal and plant products (such as corals, reptiles, pangolins, plants and animals used for medicinal purposes, timber, charcoal and bushmeat).
The large-scale theft of natural resources deprives many of the world’s most marginalised people, including indigenous communities, of important opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, as wildlife products are an important economic sector in many developed and developing countries, either directly or indirectly, e.g. through tourism. Through illegal wildlife trade, governments lose important sources of revenues; while its links with corruption and illicit money flows, for instance through money laundering, undermine the rule of law and good governance. At the same time, weak governance structures further facilitate these crimes. Wildlife trafficking also fuels instability in regions such as Central Africa, where militia groups use the revenues generated to fund their activities.
In January 2014, the UN Security Council for the first time agreed on targeted sanctions against individuals supporting armed groups or criminal networks in the Central African Republic and the DRC through the illicit exploitation of wildlife and wildlife products.
The EU has been at the forefront of the fight against illegal wildlife trade, both domestically and globally, over the last decade.
The EU is a key player in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In the framework of this Convention, the EU supported the adoption of far-reaching measures to tackle illegal trade and to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products.
The EU has adopted strict trade rules for endangered species through Council Regulation 338/97 and implementing Commission Regulations.
The Commission works closely with the EU Member States to constantly strengthen the enforcement of those rules. Cooperation on illegal wildlife trade issues takes place through the EU Enforcement Group, which meets twice a year under the chairmanship of the European Commission and gathers law enforcement officers from all EU Member States, as well as Europol, Eurojust, Interpol, the World Customs Organisation, and the CITES Secretariat.
In 2007, the Commission adopted a series of Recommendations for strengthening the enforcement of EU wildlife trade rules in the Member States. These Recommendations include adopting national action plans for enforcement, imposing sufficiently high penalties for wildlife trade offences and using risk and intelligence assessments to detect illegal and smuggled wildlife products. The Recommendation also addresses the need for increased public awareness about the negative impacts of illegal wildlife trade and for greater co-operation and exchange of information within and between Member States as well as with third countries and relevant international organizations (e.g. Interpol, World Customs Organization).
Examples of important seizures carried out in the EU in 2012 can be found here.
Despite strict rules and enforcement efforts, the EU remains, according to Europol, “one of the most important markets for the trafficking in endangered species”. The EU is also a major transit point for illegal trade in wildlife, in particular between Africa and Asia. Europol's Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessments also highlight the increasing role of organized criminal groups in wildlife trafficking within the EU.
The EU has provided large scale development support to anti-wildlife trafficking efforts in developing countries. In Africa alone, the EU has committed more than 500 million EUR for biodiversity conservation over the past 30 years, with a portfolio of on-going projects worth approximately 160 million EUR.
For the programming of the EU development cooperation for the period 2014-2020, the Commission intends to launch an initiative, called Biodiversity for Life Initiative (B4Life), as a comprehensive framework to encompass the linkages between biodiversity and livelihoods in developing countries. Within this framework, the mounting challenges of wildlife conservation, especially in Africa, will be addressed through a dedicated window – the Wildlife Crisis Window.
The EU is also leading international efforts against illegal logging through the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process and the EU Timber Regulation, and against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.