“Go Wild for Life: zero tolerance for illegal wildlife trade” is the theme of this year’s World Environment Day celebrated on 5 June 2016.

Dutch GUE/NGL MEP Anja Hazekamp denounced trade in endangered species as a “ruthless crime”. Despite international treaties to stop the illegal trade in endangered species compliance is still lacking:

“Enforcement and efforts to stop trafficking of endangered species are insufficient in most countries,” said the Dutch MEP. 

Hazekamp proposed that measures should not only address illegal trade but also the scope of legal trade:

“Because the illegal trade in animals is closely related to the legal trade and often uses the same channels and routes, we not only need to strengthen enforcement efforts, but also limit the legal trade in animals.”  

Taking these steps “will not only help to prevent further species’ extinction, but will also be beneficial to the welfare of the animals involved,” affirmed the MEP.

Between 2009 and 2014 an estimated 170 tonnes of ivory were illegally exported out of Africa fuelled by strong demand in richer markets. The EU is major transit and destination market for illegal wildlife trade, especially for the trade of birds, turtles, reptiles and plant species.

German GUE/NGL MEP Stefan Eck remarked that “Wildlife crime is a big business.”

 “Wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms. It’s the largest direct threat to the future of many of the world’s most threatened species. And it is not limited to certain countries or regions, it is a global phenomenon,” Eck elaborated.  

Some examples of illegal wildlife trade are well known, such as poaching of elephants for ivory and tigers for their skins and bones. However, countless other species such as marine turtles or pangolins are similarly exploited.

“But this trade is not only about the environment and about biodiversity; transnational organized crime groups and armed non-state actors are heavily involved in this illegal business and are able to exploit institutional weakness, civil conflict and legislative loopholes in source and consumer countries to feed the rising demand for these illegal commodities,” conceded the German MEP.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published last week the first World Wildlife Crime Report which offers an analysis of legal and illegal markets of wildlife and forest products. This can be useful in addressing vulnerabilities in the legal trade and promote better global regulatory systems.

National, state, and local governments are passing laws that prohibit the capture and sale of certain species, but most of these regulations are poorly enforced and are designed to protect humans from disease in the first place and forget to ensure that animals should be handled humanely.

Asked about ways to address illegal wildlife trade, Stefan Eck proposed:

“We have to identify gaps in legislation and law enforcement and close these gaps immediately while deepening our level of cooperation. But we also have to understand that we face a shared responsibility in avoiding products from illegal flora and fauna such as fashion items, furniture or food.”

Education is often overlooked, “there are still people buying ‘exotic’ animals to have them as pets without seeing how deadly this exotic animal trade is,” explained the MEP.

World Environment Day is the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment and this year it is hosted by Angola.

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