20/01/2014 EURO-MPs have voted to set up a new EU-wide police unit to tackle wildlife crime after it emerged that it was netting gangsters some £22bn a year, making wildlife crime the fourth most profitable illegal activity after selling drugs, weapons and human trafficking.
The value of the illegal wildlife trade has risen sharply in recent years – the trade was worth a reported £15bn a year ago – and wildlife group have warned it now threatens ecosystems, political balance and safety of populations.
Although much wildlife crime occurs outside Europe – for example, almost two thirds of forest elephants in Central Africa were illegally killed between 2002 and 2012 for their ivory – the EU is often the criminals’ base and ultimate destination for the ‘poached’ wildlife trophies.
London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert, speaking after the vote, said: “Wildlife crime is big business – and it’s being carried out here in the EU by an assortment of nasty gangs, with links to the drugs and arms trades.
“As well as threatening biodiversity around the world, and some of our most-loved species’ very existence, wildlife crime is tearing communities apart and threatening political instability in some of the world’s most volatile regions.
“I am delighted MEPs have adopted this zero-tolerance approach – and I hope the European Commission and Member State governments now follow suit.”
Specifically, MEPs have backed the creation of a new EU-wide police unit, harsher penalties for wildlife criminals, mandatory destruction of illegal ivory, better training of police and prosecutors and a more unified approach by EU customs officers.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik told MEPs the EU will launch a public consultation on the issue next month and hold a conference on it on 10 April.
MEPs also called on the European Commission to raise the issue in talks with the EU’s international partners and make it a priority when shaping EU aid policy.
The resolution was passed overwhelmingly: by 647 votes to 14, with no abstentions.