Rome [ENA] Wildlife trafficking has reached unmatched levels in recent years, becoming the fourth largest illegal business in the world. Only drugs, weapons and human trafficking are larger. More than 20 000 elephants and 1200 rhinoceroses were killed in 2014 and their populations are once more in decline.Species such as sharks, tigers, great apes, turtles, pangolins, corals and tropical timber are being traded unlawfully.
Wildlife trafficking is not a new phenomenon, but its scale, nature and impacts have been transformed extensively. Poaching has reached unparalleled levels for some species, and the world is at present facing an impressive pitch in wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal activities worldwide, with devastating effects for biodiversity and negative impact on the rule of law due to its close links with corruption. Its role in financing militia and terrorist groups has been cited in the proposed European Union Action Plan on the fight against terrorist financing.
Wildlife trafficking is very inviting to criminals, as it is highly money-spinning and with a low enforcement importance by comparison with other forms of trafficking in most countries, so the risk of detection and penalties is limited. Links with money laundering and other forms of organised crime, such as trafficking in drugs and firearms, have been repeatedly attested . The illicit ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, and is over three times greater than it was in 1998. Between 2007 and 2013, rhino poaching increased by 7000% in South Africa, endangering the survival of this species .
The authorities in various transit and destination countries between November 2013 and April 2014 seized more than 4000 tonnes of highly endangered rosewood suspected to have been illegally exported from Madagascar. The European Union has a significant role to play in tackling this traffic, as Europe is currently a destination market, a hub for trafficking in transit to other regions and for some species, the source region for illegal trade. The EU has been a major defender of the CITES Convention for many years, through funding for capacity-building programmes, particularly in relation to marine and timber species, as well as against elephant poaching and ivory trade.
On the other side, the European Union is the 181st party to join the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and that constitutes an important milestone. The Convention covers more than 35 000 animal species and plants, guaranteeing that trade remains legal and sustainable. The aim of the Convention, in fact, is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The urgency is to strengthen the Convention and the fight against wildlife trafficking.
The maltese Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs affirmed: "Drugs, weapons, human trafficking and wildlife trafficking use the same illegal networks. Joining the CITES Convention is a big step in the preparation of our action plan to step up the fight against wildlife trafficking. CITES is the best response the international community has in the fight against wildlife criminals and their illegal, unsustainable trade. It allows us to use the expertise gained in dismantling other illegal networks".
International agencies such as Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime work with the Convention, and have increased their fight against transnational organised crime in this field. The CITES Convention means that trade sanctions can be taken as a last resort if Parties repeatedly fail to meet their obligations. CITES protects exotic species but also European species such as lynx, bears, wolves and eels.