Wildlife Trade and Trafficking

The trade and trafficking of endangered species, their body parts or products derived from them, has dire consequences for animal welfare.

Wildlife trafficking and the trade in illegal wildlife products also leads to the disruption of ecosystems, and can accelerate the extinction of species. 

Europe plays a pivotal role in keeping practices such as elephant poaching and ivory trafficking viable, not only as an importer but also as a transit hub, especially between Africa and Asia. There is considerable suffering involved during the various steps of the trade: from capture to the transportation and keeping conditions at holding centres and the final destination.

Research has shown that wildlife trafficking is the second largest contributor to the collapse of our natural world.

It also results in economic, social and political disruption, particularly affecting local communities and tourism in developing countries. Interpol estimates that the illegal trade in wildlife could be worth up to $20 billion per year, with criminals involved along the entire supply chain, from poaching and transportation to processing and selling. Other illegal activities are often associated with wildlife crimes, including money laundering, corruption and document fraud.

In 2016 World Animal Protection discovered that over 60 African grey parrots being smuggled via Istanbul had died en route to their destination.

Nowadays there is a ban on the import of wild-caught birds into the EU, but other species such as glass eels are still passing through European ports on an unprecedented scale, often in suitcases wholly unsuited to sustaining live sea animals. 

While illegal wildlife products such as rhino horn are banned, a lack of enforcement means that it is still very easy to import them alongside legally obtained products. 

The fact that many countries, including the EU, continue to allow some form of international and domestic trade in ivory makes stopping the illegal trade more difficult. Moreover, the legal trade also keeps up demand and ensures that the market for these products remains brisk.

THE ILLEGAL TRADE IN WILDLIFE COULD BE WORTH UP TO

16 billion

DOLLARS PER YEAR

76%

OF THE EU’S PUBLIC SUPPORTS A TOTAL BAN ON THE IVORY TRADE

IN 2014 AND 2015 ALONE,

5775

KGS OF IVORY WAS IMPORTED TO HONG HONG VIA EU COUNTRIES

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

An EU public consultation in 2018 showed great support for a total ban on the ivory trade within the EU to curb the trade in illegal and intentionally mislabelled ivory. 92% of the nearly 90,000 individuals, NGOs and public bodies who responded said that such a ban should be a priority for the EU and the Member States.

A Eurobarometer survey in 2019 revealed that 77% of European citizens ‘totally agree’ that it is our responsibility to look after nature, with 71% saying that nature protection areas are ‘very important’ for the conservation of endangered animals.

Some countries have implemented stricter regulations on the sale or import of some wildlife products. France has implemented a ban on the import of lion trophies. Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK have all adopted or are set to adopt stricter measures on the trade in ivory. 

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force in 1975 to help safeguard animal and plant species that are at risk of extinction due to trade. The EU implements CITES through Council Regulation 338/97/EC, which incorporates controls on the sale and possession of wild animals. Appendix I of CITES lists species which are threatened with extinction, while Appendix II includes a list of species whose trade must be controlled in order to protect their survival. 

Council Regulation 338/97/EC only permits the sale of antique or ‘pre-Convention’ ivory that was acquired before elephants were included in the CITES appendices. In addition, the Commission’s guidance from May 2017 recommends suspending the export of raw ivory. There is evidence, however, that new, illegal ivory is being laundered using the exemptions in EU legislation, and that ivory pieces are being treated to look antique. EU Member States are being used as transit countries to smuggle illegal ivory from elephants poached in Africa to Asia. 

Eurogroup for Animals advocates for stricter legislation to control  the illegal wildlife trade, as well as the import of hunting trophies

We will also call for the European Union to issue financial support to animal rescue centres, which play a crucial role in the fight against wildlife trafficking and care for confiscated animals.

We will continue to inform decision-makers and encourage them to protect animal welfare in implementing CITES within Europe. 

Eurogroup for Animals coordinates its activities on international wildlife trade with other international animal welfare and conservation organizations through the Species Survival Network (SSN) and its Animals in Captivity Working Group. The network has identified critical opportunities within the CITES framework to improve the welfare of animals impacted by trade, including in key areas related to capture, transport, housing and confiscation strategies for animals. The working group’s mission is to promote good welfare practice and standards throughout the CITES framework, and to eliminate those practices which compromise animal welfare.

Since 2015 Eurogroup for Animals has been a member of an advisory group of NGOs which provides input into the process of implementation of the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking through the MEP interest group ‘MEPs for Wildlife’, launched in the European Parliament in Brussels in March 2015.