As a major destination for wildlife trade, the EU must 'show courage' and commit to 'strong, meaningful' action in tackling wildlife trafficking, says Susan Lieberman.
Much of the world's wildlife is in crisis and one of the primary threats to many species is poaching and trafficking illegally in their parts and products.
Considered to be the fourth largest illegal trade in the world (after drugs, weapons, and human trafficking), the international wildlife trade generates approximately €14bn per year. It involves tens of thousands of wild mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and other species.
I have worked on international wildlife trade for more than 25 years, both for non-governmental organisations and the US government. In that time wildlife trafficking and the involvement of crime syndicates and corrupt officials has never been worse.
The current wave operates through sophisticated networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, and silencers to avoid law enforcement. In the response to this crisis, the European Union and its 28 member states have a major role to play.
There is hope, however. In early February, following a resolution recently passed by the European parliament calling for EU action on wildlife crime, the commission launched a stakeholder consultation on its approach to wildlife trafficking, which concludes on 10 April with an all-day expert conference. I will be attending the conference, which will include member state governments, invited conservation organisations and stakeholders.
On 12 February, the UK government and prince Charles convened a summit to focus on wildlife trafficking and solutions. At the summit, 46 governments, including the EU and several member states, signed the 'London declaration', which sets out high-level political commitments and actions to tackle the problem, including the recognition that wildlife trafficking is a serious transnational crime and must be treated as such.
"The EU is a major destination for significant amounts of both legal and illegal wildlife"
Critically needed are site-based efforts to stop the poaching on the ground; anti-trafficking and enforcement measures along the trade chain, including successful prosecutions; and efforts to change consumer behaviour, including ending demand for ivory and other endangered species products. Markets for ivory - whether in Shanghai, Bangkok, or Brussels - must be closed if we are to save Africa and Asia's elephants.
The EU is a major destination for significant amounts of both legal and illegal wildlife. All 28 member states are parties to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) and the EU can now become a party to the treaty in its own right. The EU strategy must be strong and directed at meaningful, measurable results in the field, at trafficking hubs, and with consumers.
In my personal experience, including living and working for many years in Europe, the EU and its member states at CITES have always been strong and proactive on behalf of conservation. That leadership is now more critical than ever.
As this week's conference approaches, EU leaders have a clear choice. They could accept business-as-usual, issue a weak strategy calling for collaboration, and continue to bemoan the poaching crisis.
Or they can show courage and use this opportunity to implement the recommendations of the European parliament wildlife crime resolution and publicly commit to strong, meaningful action by adopting policies and direct funding that crack down on poaching, trafficking, corruption, and consumption. We are all watching.