Wildlife crime, including poaching, illegal harvesting and other illegal cross-border trade in biological resources taken from the wild, has reached worrying levels and become a serious transnationally organised criminal business, now representing the fourth largest illegal activity in the world after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking. This can have potentially disastrous implications for the conservation of the trafficked species.
“Wildlife crime puts entire ecosystems at risk, and international intelligence, policy and enforcement efforts have to be urgently strengthened, in particular to address the role of international crime in driving illegal activities. We need to be better organised than the organised crime. The EU now has to play a crucial role to help convene different stakeholders internationally, and take a lead in strengthening efforts on its own territory and also in supporting countries from which trafficked wildlife originates,” said Luc Bas, Director of IUCN’s EU Representative Office, on the occasion of a Conference on the EU Approach Against Wildlife Trafficking organised by the European Commission, which took place on 10 April 2014 in Brussels.
“It is equally important to remember that not all activity is harmful and illegal. Indeed, many species can be legally and sustainably collected and traded in ways that not only support human livelihoods and provide essential benefits to local communities, but can also contribute to conservation and to reducing wildlife trafficking,” added Dena Cator, IUCN Programme Officer for Network Support at the IUCN Species Programme.
“As clearly confirmed by the input we received from the public consultation, law enforcement is a weak point that needs to be addressed. It is exactly the potential economic benefit combined with the weak enforcement system in place today that attracts organised criminal groups. The fact is that wildlife trafficking can be a very lucrative business with a comparative low risk of detection and lower sanctions than, for example, drug trafficking or trafficking in human beings,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik at his opening speech.
“Within the EU we need a debate with Member States and other stakeholders to see how, and how far, environmental crime can be made a possible new priority in the EU-wide fight against serious and organised crime,” he added.
A Member of European Parliament, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy reminded the participants that Illegal wildlife trafficking affects not only the iconic species such as elephants and rhinoceroses, but also other species such as the pangolin, organ-pipe corals, many types of birds, reptiles, marine mammals, aquatic species such as fish, molluscs and corals, as well as plants such as trees, cacti and orchids. This variety needs to be reflected in the EU’s approaches to combating wildlife crime. It will also be important to build on existing measures and initiatives, such as, in the case of elephants, the various existing CITES Decisions and Resolutions, the African Elephant Action Plan and other documents referred to both in the African Elephant Summit and London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade.
IUCN encourages field-based conservation initiatives in protected areas as a highly effective way to tackle the supply-side of wildlife trafficking, especially when linked to improved capacity for park rangers and use of appropriate technology and other tools. For example, IUCN’s Save Our Species (SOS) Partnership is one of the major donors of the SMART Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool.
The EU conference aimed to identify measures and actions to be undertaken by the EU domestically and internationally to strengthen its approach against wildlife trafficking, bringing together participants from 26 Member States, as well as source and market countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Key international organisations such as Europol, Eurojust, Interpol, different part of the UN system and the World Bank were also represented. Civil society was actively participating through more than twenty different organisations, including IUCN.
The agenda focused on strengthening EU enforcement against wildlife trafficking; the fight against organized wildlife crime; as well as EU action at the international level, in terms of development support and diplomatic action.
Discussion at the conference built on feedback received from stakeholders on a Commission Communication on the future EU approach to wildlife trafficking published on 7 February 2014. IUCN consulted its broad network on the document – the IUCN Secretariat, including its regional offices and the Specialist Groups of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
Based on the results of the consultation and the outcome of the expert conference held on 10 April 2014, the European Commission will propose to the next Environment Commissioner to review the existing policies and measures relating to wildlife trafficking within the EU to enable Member States of the EU to react more effectively to the current illegal wildlife crime crisis.
The issue of wildlife crime will be on the agenda of the IUCN World Parks Congress. One of the World Leaders’ Dialogues is devoted to wildlife crime issues, entitled “The Nature of Crime,” with John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, and President Ali Bongo from Gabon so far confirmed to sit as panelists. In addition to the World Leaders’ Dialogue, there will be several workshop sessions particularly from the stream ‘Reaching Conservation Goals’ and a series of side events that will focus on wildlife crime.