Wildlife trafficking is a multibillion- euro business. It attracts organised criminal networks due to the low risk of detection, insignificant penalties and high profits. It now ranks alongside other transnational organised crimes like drugs, arms, and human trafficking.
Wildlife trafficking is not just an animal welfare problem. It is a serious global environmental crime - threatening biodiversity, endangered species, livelihoods and even national security.
The EU is a critical transit hub, destination market and even source for illegal wildlife trade. In response to a dramatic surge in wildlife crime, the European Commission released the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking (EU WTAP) in 2016.
It outlined 32 points of action for the EU and its Member States to combat trafficking through prevention, effective enforcement and stronger global partnerships from 2016 to 2020. As we are fast approaching 2020, it is time for reflection.
The Action Plan gave unprecedented momentum to wildlife crime-related work: several EU Member States have since taken serious steps on this issue, including at least five countries passing national legislation on ivory trade. In 2017, wildlife crime was recognised as a priority under the EU fight against organised crime, with more resources allocated for the 2018-2021 period.
Recent investigations by INTERPOL in coordination with either Europol, or the World Customs Organization, resulted in thousands of seizures of protected species and the arrest of hundreds suspects.
Despite good progress, wildlife crime is still prolific; thousands of elephants are killed every year for their ivory; record seizures of pangolin scales continue; and thousands of protected wildlife species are illegally traded over the internet.
A UN report on biodiversity released in May was clear: the situation is urgent and over a million species are at risk of extinction. No time can be wasted if we wish to avoid this catastrophic ending.
“Despite good progress, wildlife crime is still prolific”
IFAW has been on the frontlines of the fight against wildlife trafficking for years: working closely with EU policymakers, stakeholders and industry to combat wildlife crime and cybercrime, or championing the adoption of the WTAP.
As we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we look ahead with the hope that we will not be alone in this fi ght. A new European Parliament has been elected and a “Green” wave is on the rise.
Our new Commission presidentelect has promised to deliver a “Green Deal” in her first 100 days. Welcome news, but this must include biodiversity protection. As environmental issues are clearly an increasing priority for European citizens, the newly elected MEPs should honour the mandate given to them and call for the renewal of WTAP.
The EU must continue to be a global leader in the fi ght against wildlife crime. We encourage MEPs to make sure the next five years bring profound change to protect species threatened with extinction and to truly combat wildlife crime and protect biodiversity.
Together, we can achieve much more for people, animals and this place we call home. Let’s get to work.
This Thought leader is sponsored by the International Found for Animal Welfare (IFAW).