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Study on wildlife crime in the EU published by EFFACE researchers

Wildlife crime is increasingly recognised as a serious threat to biodiversity and sustainable development. The EU is both an important market for illegal wildlife products and an important actor in the fight against wildlife crime. Therefore, the EU Commission has recently prepared an Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking. The accompanying staff document of the Commission refers various times to the EFFACE case study on illegal wildlife trade and other EFFACE reports.

In the context of the preparation of the EU Action Plan, the European Parliament comissioned a study to analyse wildlife crime in the EU and the enforcement situation in Member States. The study was compiled by a consortium led by Ecologic Institute and comprising several other EFFACE partners: the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), Jennifer Maher of the University of South Wales, Ragnild Sollund of the University of Oslo and Teresa Fajardo del Castillo of the University of Granada. Moreover, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) and Tanya Wyatt of the University of Northumbria were involved.

The study was completed in February 2016.

Structure of the study

The study contains as first chapter an introduction to the UN CITES convention, which regulates the trade in endangered species and the EU legislation on wildlife crime. This is followed by a review of academic and official literature on wildlife crime. Moreover, the report contains two chapters on illegal wildlife trade in the EU, and implementation of EU wildlife regulations and law enforcement in EU Member States respectively. These chapters are based on a review of selected official reports and statistics for 25 Member States, data from the EU-Twix database which contains data on seizures reported by the EU Member States, and an in-depth analysis including interviews for five selected Member States (Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom).

Wildlife crime in the EU

On wildlife crime the study finds that the EU is both a destination and a transit region for wildlife products. The study identifies the following four important trade routes across the EU:

  • Large mammals like elephants, rhinos and big cats are trade from Africa and South America to major trade hubs (e. g. airports) in the EU and for further transit to Asia
  • Leeches, caviar, fish, as well as reptiles and parrots for the pet trade in Europe are smuggled via coastal routes.
  •  Endangered birds are traded from South Eastern Europe to Southern Europe
  • Russian wildlife and Asian exports are transported via Eastern European land routes.

The overall trend in wildlife crime measured in the number of seizures has been roughly constant in recent years. Seizures are concentrated in countries with large overall trading volumes like Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and France. The most frequently seized species are reptiles, mammals, flowers and corals.

Wildlife crime enforcement in the EU

On wildlife crime enforcement the study concludes that the regulatory framework is by and large sufficient for combating illegal wildlife trade. However, insufficient and uneven levels of enforcement of the existing legislation across the EU are a major concern. What is problematic are in particular the varying and often low levels of sanctions in Member States,  a lack of resources, technical skills, awareness and capacity among law enforcers, prosecutors and judicial authorities, the low priority given to wildlife crime by enforcement institutions and a lack of cooperation between agencies.

Conclusions and policy recommendations

The study ends with conclusions and policy recommendations for the European Parliament. Some of these recommendations are that higher priority should be given to fighting wildlife crime at the political level as well as by enforcement bodies; Member States should provide for the specialization of enforcement bodies. Improved data gathering, better cooperation and more awareness-raising measures are also recommended.