MEPs and NGOs back measures to ban illegal wildlife trafficking
Pressure grows on the European Commission to introduce total ban on the ivory trade.
Seized illegal ivory | Photo credit: Press Association
During the November Strasbourg plenary session, MEPs overwhelmingly passed UK ALDE MEP Catherine Bearder's resolution calling for an immediate EU-wide ban on elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trade.
The report urges member states to set higher penalties for wildlife crimes, and calls on the Commission to work towards establishing common rules for defining criminal offences and sanctions relating to wildlife trafficking.
According to EU data, wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated €20bn annually, with money going to organised criminal gangs and terrorist organisations.
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"Wildlife trafficking is the fourth biggest organised criminal activity on the planet. It is high time we are really serious about it", said rapporteur Catherine Bearder.
She added, "The penalties against trafficking must be very severe to reflect on the seriousness of this crime and must be the same across the EU."
The resolution was passed by the majority of MEPs, with 567 MEPs voting in favour with only five against.
The report was in reaction to the Commission's EU action plan against wildlife trafficking, which recognised the devastating effects on biodiversity and even the speeding up of the extinction of many animal species.
The EU believes the illicit ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, and is over three times greater than it was in 1998. Between 2007 and 2013, rhino poaching increased by 7000 per cent in South Africa. More than 4000 tonnes of highly endangered rosewood are suspected to have been illegally exported from Madagascar between November 2013 and April 2014 alone.
UK S&D group deputy Paul Brannen wanted to see EU police agencies have more power, but he also highlighted the exploitation of poor people who lived near wild animals.
"It is vital the EU takes on the lead on tackling this despicable trade and enables Europol to go after criminals and animal killers who profit it, exploiting some the world's poorest people in the process."
However, German GUE/EFA group member Stefan Eck expressed scepticism about the EU's intentions and complained Europe was acting too late, saying, "The EU has once again failed, as these steps are far too late for countless species which have already become extinct or are about to become extinct."
Eck condemned the Commission for not banning the trade in ivory outright along with trophy shooting and exotic pets.
"Why is the Commission against the ban on the ivory trade? Why isn't there a ban on trade in exotic wild animals or a ban on the import of animal trophies? There is no ban on trade in Bluefin tuna or on many other endangered marine species."
NGOs and wildlife conservation campaigners, however, welcomed the report.
Janice Weatherley, Director of European policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society said, "We congratulate MEP Bearder and her colleagues for their excellent report and ask the Parliament to monitor the implementation of the EU action plan against wildlife trafficking."
She urged the Commission and member states to "allocate sufficient human and financial resources to ensure its full implementation."
Humane Society International Executive Director Joanna Swabe said, "It is heartening that there has been so much political consensus on the need to effectively combat wildlife trafficking."
Reineke Hemeleers, Director of Eurogroup for animals, called on "the EU and members states to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the action plan to address the trade in illegally collected wildlife products sold as legal commodities, like exotic pets."
Recognising the role the aviation sector plays transporting illegal goods, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced mid-November, new measurers to tackle animal trafficking.
IATA Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said, "The illegal trafficking of wildlife products is an issue which the aviation industry takes very seriously. We are working in close partnership with US Aid, World Customs Organisation, CITES and other organisations."
He added, "Actors in the air transport sector can serve as the eyes and ears of enforcement agencies and can be valuable partners in the efforts to eliminate wildlife trafficking."
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