Tougher penalties, mandatory destruction of illegal ivory and better training of police and prosecutors are needed to combat trophy hunting and the organised criminal killing of rhinos, elephants and other wildlife for profit, say MEPs in a resolution voted on Wednesday.
"If we don't take radical measures very quickly to stop these illegal practices, there will soon be no more of these iconic animals living wild anywhere on earth. We must treat this slaughter as organised crime, just like the illegal drug trade”, said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL), who put an oral question on the issue to the European Commission on Monday and drafted the resolution.
Wildlife crime is the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking, with an annual turnover of at least US$ 19 billion. The European Union is a significant market and a transit route for illegal trade in rhino horn, ivory, and other animals and plants threatened by extinction. This puts the EU in a privileged position to control this trade, MEPs say.
"Rhino horn is more expensive than cocaine and gold; yet at the same time, it is easy to smuggle, the risk of detection is very low, and sanctions, if imposed, are often not sufficient to act as a deterrent", environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said in his reply to MEPs on Monday. He also announced that the European Commission will present a communication and launch a public consultation on the issue next month and hold a conference on it on 10 April.
Using trade talks to combat wildlife crime
Because trade in the products of wildlife crime is global, and demand for them is growing in Southeast Asia, MEPs urge the Commission to raise the issue in talks with the EU’s international partners and make it a priority when shaping EU aid policy.
Commissioner Potočnik told Parliament on Monday that the Commission systematically raises this question in the EU’s political, trade and bilateral relations exchanges with key countries including China, Vietnam and Thailand, and promised to do likewise in upcoming talks with the US and the African Union.
Stricter penalties and better training
MEPs urge EU member states to destroy their stockpiles of illegal ivory and introduce moratoria on commercial imports, exports and domestic sales of tusks and ivory until wild elephant populations are no longer threatened by poaching.
MEPs urge EU member states to harmonise their markedly differing penalties against those who trade, take, capture or possess specimens of protected wildlife,and urge them to ensure that wildlife criminals are sentenced to penalties commensurate with the seriousness of their crimes, including up to four years in prison for organised wildlife crime.
To improve enforcement, they call for dedicated training for all enforcement officers and the appointment of specialised wildlife crime prosecutors.
The resolution was passed by 647 votes to 14, with no abstentions.
Procedure: non-binding resolution