Wildlife trafficking, the illegal cross-border trade in animals and plants, has transformed into one of the largest transnational organised criminal activities alongside drug trafficking, arms and human trafficking. It has developed into a multi-billion dollar business due to the fact that it is enormously lucrative while there is little risk to the perpetrators of being caught. In case this does happen, sentences these criminals face are relatively light.
Levels of illegal trade in many species and derivatives, including African elephant ivory, pangolins and white rhino horn, have reached unprecedented levels in recent years and threaten the local extinction of populations. Every year, over 20,000 elephants are killed for their ivory. In 2015, more than 1,200 rhinos were poached in Africa, up from just 60 in 2006.
However, many other species, such as large cats, turtles, cycads, marine fishes, orchids and timber are also subject to alarming levels of illegal trade underlining the need for concerted action to tackle this trade.
The EU’s unique role in combatting wildlife trafficking
The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, launched in February 2016, sets out a robust and measured set of responses that will allow the EU to develop its unique role in combatting illegal wildlife trade. The Action Plan further targets the entire supply chain of illegal trade in wildlife, from source to transit to end consumer. It seeks to reduce demand for wildlife products traded illegally among end consumers, increase business sector engagement in efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and encourage sustainable sourcing of wildlife products, to tackle corruption associated with wildlife trafficking, and ensure wildlife trafficking regulations in the EU are fully implemented.
Crucially, the action plan also recognises the important role that rural communities can play in solutions to illegal wildlife trade, for example by strengthening their engagement in the management and conservation of wildlife.
The EU is an end point for traded wildlife, but also a major transit point for trade between Africa and Asia. Trophy species such as elephants, tigers, and rhinos are particularly affected, but also other species including sharks (for their fins), pangolins (scales) and tree species such as mahogany (for their timber). Populations of these species in the wild are being severely impacted by trafficking.
In February 2016, the European Commission launched an ambitious plan to tackle wildlife trafficking. Over the last decade, the EU has worked hard to address wildlife trafficking by supporting a variety of initiatives. All EU Member States are signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which works to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The provisions of CITES have to be implemented uniformly in all EU Member States, and this is driven at the EU level through the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations.
IUCN works to combat wildlife trafficking through its partnership with WWF - TRAFFIC. TRAFFIC is a wildlife trade monitoring network and the leading non-governmental organization working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.