The European Commission has announced it is preparing an EU Action Plan to step up the fight against wildlife trafficking.
This follows a successful campaign by wildlife charities including the Born Free Foundation.
The comprehensive plan will bring together environmental experts, police and trade officials from across the EU to crack down on the illegal trade, now the fourth largest in the world.
The plan will aim to close loopholes which allow gangs to smuggle ivory and other illegal wildlife products into Europe.
In a speech in New York, the EU’s Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said the plan was currently being prepared and should come into force in early 2016. The news comes as the EU joined CITES, the international convention which regulates the global wildlife trade to protect endangered animals and plants.
Vella said, “The world is confronted today with a dramatic surge in wildlife trafficking. This is a tragedy for biodiversity but not only that. Wildlife trafficking also weakens the economy of many developing countries. Its close links with corruption and organised crime undermine the rule of law and political stability in fragile regions.
“In recent years the Convention has made a lot of progress to ensure effective implementation of its rules, notably thanks to the leadership of CITES Secretary General, John Scanlon, who is a tireless supporter of the fight against wildlife crime. Many international agencies now actively support CITES.
“An example is the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime, led by CITES and bringing together the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, Interpol and the World Customs Organisation.
“In some countries, very stringent measures have been adopted to counter wildlife trafficking and they are starting to bear fruit.
“We are close to an agreement on the UN resolution on wildlife trafficking. We need to demonstrate the commitment of the global community to get fully engaged in the battle against wildlife trafficking, so I hope we are able to agree on a strong text very soon. I would like to thank Gabon and Germany for their tireless efforts in that direction.”
The commissioner went on, “In the EU we have decided to prepare a comprehensive EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking. With this Action Plan, which should come to fruition early 2016, we aim to make our approach against wildlife trafficking sharper and more effective, both domestically and at global level.
“We intend to bring together all those who are needed to fight wildlife crime effectively: experts in environment, in development support, in police, customs and prosecution, in diplomacy.”
UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, founder of the cross-party MEPs for Wildlife Group, is calling for measures including minimum penalties across the EU for wildlife trafficking, a dedicated wildlife crime unit in Europol and a permanent fund for anti-poaching efforts in developing countries.
She commented, “After years of campaigning, I’m delighted the EU is finally preparing to crack down on wildlife traffickers.
“We need coordinated EU action shut down wildlife trafficking networks in Europe and take on poachers in Africa.
“Unless we want our children to live in a world without elephants, lions or rhinos, we must act now.”