EU To Up The Ante Against Wildlife Trafficking
Brussels, Belgium – On the 10th and 11th April, 170 representatives met to deliberate on how the EU can better fight the surge of wildlife trafficking in recent years, a scourge that has reached a level that threatens the survival of some endangered species as well as seriously undermining the good governance and sustainable development of many countries. The conference marked the end of a long consultation period launched on 7th February that included various individual stakeholders, governmental and non-governmental organizations and enforcement practitioners.
Participants at the conference came from 26 Member States, as well as from source and market countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Key international organizations such as CITES, Europol, Interpol and the World Bank were also represented. Civil society too actively participated through more than twenty different NGOs that included the Environmental Investigation Agency, WWF and IFAW.
Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, opened the proceedings asking: “How can we ensure that the EU stops being a major market and transit point for illegal wildlife products? How can we fight against organized wildlife crime more effectively?” “The EU”, he continued, “is keen to play its part and work with our international partners to make real progress.”
This is the first time representatives from all parts of the EU government concerned (foreign affairs, development, environment, home affairs and justice) have come together, reflecting an urgent need to develop a more comprehensive approach to what has become a major and complex organized crime problem and a threat to sustainable development.
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 trans-national organized crime networks and resembles, in character and scale, other types of global criminal activities, such as trafficking in drugs, human beings, firearms and counterfeit goods. However, low levels of awareness about the problem, a low risk of detection and sanction levels make wildlife and environmental trafficking particularly lucrative for criminals. Potočnik stressed that, “law enforcement is a weak point that needs to be addressed,” and revealed that wildlife criminals “are usually dominated by persons from the EU.”
The number of African elephants illegally killed has more than doubled over the past decade, and the quantity of ivory seized has tripled. In 2012, poachers killed an estimated 22 000 elephants, possibly more, with more than 40 tons of illegal ivory seized at various locales in 2013. Rhino poaching has sharply escalated in South Africa. More than 1000 animals were poached there in 2013 compared to just 13 in 2007. In total, since 2010, about 2500 rhinos have been killed in South Africa accounting for 80% of the entire continent’s rhino population. The resale value of rhino horn is estimated at around 40 000 EUR/kilo. The current price of 1 kg gold is EUR 31 000. Raw ivory prices reach 620 EUR/kilo on the black market and tiger bones sell for up to 900 EUR/kilo. The world’s tiger population has decreased from 100 000 a century ago to less than 3500 today. Poaching accounts for 78% of the deaths of Sumatran tigers.
It is not just wildlife that is being decimated. It is estimated that illegal logging accounts for up to 30% of the global timber trade and contributes to more than 50% of tropical deforestation in Central Africa, the Amazon and South East Asia.
Discussions over the two-day event, therefore, focused on how to strengthen enforcement within the EU, how to better fight organized wildlife crime and how to ensure a more strategic diplomatic and development support role. Experts highlighted a number of problems for enforcement at EU level such as lack of resources, insufficient co-operation between agencies, the lack of reliable data to analyse the scope of the problem and, in some Member States, non-deterrent sanction levels.
It was also discussed how co-operation between Member States in cross-border cases could be further strengthened and to address the need to follow the trail of the illegal revenues generated through wildlife trafficking. To better support global efforts against wildlife trafficking, the panels of experts further stressed the need for improved enforcement of existing international rules and the importance of high-level diplomatic actions towards countries most affected by wildlife trafficking. They also discussed how to maximize international co-operation to investigate and sanction trans-national organized networks and how to best integrate wildlife crime among the donor’s priorities for development co-operation assistance, particularly with Africa.
A day before the conference began, Belgium showing clear intent that wildlife crime was not going to be tolerated, destroyed its stockpile of illegal ivory, which had been confiscated by customs officials at its ports and airports over the last 25-years. Belgium is the second EU country behind France to destroy its stockpile and it is hoped that others will soon follow. Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, Laurette Onkelinx, said ahead of the conference “Our country will take advantage of this occasion to strengthen the internal collaboration within the European Union with a special focus on the tracking down…and seizing of merchandise not only at entry points but to infiltrate the poacher’s network within and beyond the intra-EU routes.”
“From the EU side”, concluded the Commissioner in his opening speech the following day, “we will use the input from the consultation and today’s conference to work further on specific proposals to deal with wildlife trafficking…Only together we can ensure that [the proposals] will be more than just words, we will turn them into action.”