Wildlife needs better protection

9th June 2016

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  • Biodiversity ,
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Kim Scott

Action on wildlife trafficking must be coordinated.

The estimated value of EU imports in 2011 of species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna was around £384m. According to a 2012 report from WWF, illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

The EU acts both as a destination and a transfer region for illegal wildlife products. Seizures at EU borders consist mainly of reptile leather products, live reptiles, birds, corals, caviar, traditional Chinese medicine and ivory. A recent report from the European Parliament found insufficient and uneven levels of enforcement among member states.

Key problems facing national enforcement authorities included: a lack of resources, technical skills, awareness and capacity among police forces, prosecutors and judicial authorities; the low priority given to wildlife crime by enforcement institutions; and poor co-operation between agencies. Wildlife crime tends to be low priority for national enforcement agencies and judiciaries.

The European Commission’s action plan against wildlife trafficking, published in February, recommends a minimum of four years’ imprisonment for convicted traffickers. As I said in a previous column (the environmentalist, April 2016), this is a strong position and sends a message to member states that they need to take a tougher stance towards people involved in wildlife crimes.

Another issue hindering the EU’s ability to tackle such activity is the administrative and organisational set-up of national authorities, which can vary. Member states that have a federal structure, such as Belgium, have multiple police forces and authorities, so co-ordination is not always synchronised. But when countries work together, major results can occur. In 2015, as part of operation COBRA III, 62 countries participated in the largest enforcement operation against wildlife crime. In the UK alone 50,000 wildlife items were seized.

My forthcoming report on the commission’s action plan will look at how we can achieve joined-up law enforcement and what EU member countries need to do to support international agencies. There are many other issues and I welcome any suggestions (bearder.eu) from practitioners in the field as I prepare my response to the commission.

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