The European Commission, the organization responsible for proposing, implementing, and upholding legislations within the European Union, has just toughened the EU's laws on wildlife crime and trafficking. The commission has adopted an EU Action Plan on wildlife trafficking that will mean organized wildlife criminals will now face at least four years in prison. In addition, loopholes that let convicted traffickers simply pay a fine for the crime rather than serving time have been closed.
The Action Plan sets out 32 measures that will be carried out by the EU’s 28 member states between now and 2020. These focus on three main points: to prevent trafficking and reduce supply and demand, enhance implementation of existing rules, and strengthen the cooperation between all countries involved in the tracking, from source to destination.
The trade in wildlife sees “an estimated 8 to 20 billion euros [$8.7 – 22 billion] pass annually through the hands of organized criminal groups, ranking alongside the trafficking of drugs, people and arms,” writes the Commission. While the trade in wildlife is not a new phenomenon, the dramatic surge over the past few years has prompted action. But it is not just the threat to wildlife and the exploitation of species that might soon be driven to extinction that is of worry; it is the trade’s link to international crime and terrorism.
So big has this issue become, the trade in wildlife being used to finance militia and terrorist groups has even been mentioned by the EU in assessing how to fight against terrorist financing. One such example is the poaching of elephants and sale of ivory used to provide funds and weapons for the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, a group known to use child soldiers and to have committed numerous human rights abuses. If groups such as these are to be stopped, then their source of finance needs to be blocked, which leads back to wildlife crime.
“Wildlife trafficking is a major threat to our sustainable future, and we need to fight it on several fronts,” Karmenu Vella, the EU Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said in a statement. “At this rate, a child born today will see the last wild elephants and rhinos die before their 25th birthdays. The new Action Plan underlines our commitment to ending this criminal activity, bringing together political will and action on the ground.”
The hope is that by enacting this plan over all 28 member states of the EU, it will stop certain countries that are lax in enforcing wildlife crime laws from becoming hotspots for the trade. The aim is to build partnerships with countries along the trade route, and prevent the EU from being the destination, source, and transit region for thousands of dead and live wild plants and animals.
Main image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr CC BY 2.0