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Home arrow Environment arrow Fighting Environmental Crime in Europe and Beyond: The Role of the EU and Its Member States

A Brief Overview of the Illegal Wildlife Trade

The trade in endangered animal and plant species is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) convention. CITES utilizes three appendices:

Appendix I—lists species threatened with extinction. Trade in animals pertaining to these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II—lists species not necessarily threatened with extinction but of whom trade must be controlled in order to avoid exploitation incompatible with species survival.

Appendix III—lists species that are protected in at least one country that has asked other CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade (CITES 2013a).

Whether trade of a species is restricted, and thereby criminalized, is dependent upon its degree of vulnerability. While most trade in endangered species is regulated under CITES (alongside other conventions), trade is only banned for critically endangered species, and there are many species that are neither listed, nor protected, within these conventions (Reeve 2002). In early 2015, the EU became the 181st body to adhere voluntarily to CITES. Prior to this, the EU adopted Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 (European Commission 2016), a framework based upon CITES, but with stricter trade rules1, comprising four annexes (A, B, C, and D). The first three largely correspond to the CITES appendices. Annex D is the ‘monitoring list’ used to track the EU import levels of species that might in the future be listed in Annexes A, B, or C (European Commission [EC] 2010; Sina et al. 2016). Currently, though, legislation is not harmonized across parties, and consequently regulation, enforcement, and punishment vary from country to country, leading to the appearance of fissures and loopholes within the EU legal response. Further, the EU response to these breaches is compromised due to variations in prioritization and expertise within the criminal justice system (CJS; e.g. a judge failing to reference previous verdicts; Maher and Sollund, in press; Sollund and Maher 2015; Sollund 2013). With Europe being a key location for IWT as a point of transit, a market for consumers (van Uhm 2016) and, to a lesser degree, a source these are significant failings. Transnational, global, and thereby difficult to control, IWT is increasingly identified as a serious and organized crime with far-reaching consequences for both humans and nonhumans (Schneider 2012; Sollund and Maher 2015; Wyatt 2013).

Between 2001 and 2010, the EU Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange (EU-TWIX) database recorded more than 50,000 confiscations across EU states.[1] [2] Animal products make up the majority of these seizures (82 per cent), compared to the seizures of live animals (15 per cent; Van Uhm 2016, p. 90). Reptile products constituted 67.7 per cent of the seizures, while mammal products were largely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM; Van Uhm 2014, 2016). Birds made up 59 per cent (N= 877) of live seizures destined for the pet trade, followed by reptiles (30 per cent, N = 2,171). In 2014 alone, UK Border Forces (UK customs agency) made 509 CITES seizures including 23 live animal, 139 animal product, 22 caviar, 14 coral, 39 ivory, and 208 TCM preparation (containing animals and/or plants;, 2015). UK enforcement agents suggest that these seizures may account for as little as 10 per cent of actual offences. According to the Norwegian Customs Directorate, in Norway, between 2008 and 2014, there were 1,839 CITES-listed live animal and animal product seizures: parrot (several species), reptile (several species), Siberian tiger, leopard, brown bear, lion, crocodile, alligator, sea horse, hippo, cords, and elephant ivory.[3] Note that a seizure does not denote quantity; for example, the 23 UK live animal seizures (see above) totalled 1,289 individual animals. The wildlife reception and rehabilitation centre in Bogota, Colombia, receives an average of4,000 animals annually. In the state of Sao Paolo, Brazil, according to statistics provided by the Environmental Military Police, between 2009 and 2014, they seized 31,534 canarios-da-terra (can- ary-of-the-land).[4] In that same period, 4,772 parrots (Amazona aestiva) were apprehended in Sao Paulo (Nassaro in print).

  • [1] Regulations include: 1) Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on theprotection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein including the Annexescontaining a list of species regulated in trade. 2) Implementing regulation: CommissionRegulation (EC) No. 865/2006 of 4 May 2006 laying down detailed rules concerning theimplementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 by regulating trade therein. These tworegulations constitute the legal framework for all EU governments and regulate international aswell as internal trade in wild animals and plants in the EU.
  • [2] ‘The EU-TWIX database has been developed to assist national law enforcement agencies,including CITES Management Authorities and prosecutors, in their task of detecting, analysing,and monitoring illegal activities related to trade in fauna and flora covered by the EU WildlifeTrade Regulations. The main section of the database is designed to become a unique source ofcentralized data on seizures and offences reported by all 28 EU member states. The purpose ofEU-TWIX is to assist with strategic analyses and carrying out field investigations’ (EU-TWIX,2015). According to Sina et al. (2016), the EU-TWIX database gives an overview on all seizures ofillegal wildlife species traded from 2007—2014.
  • [3] Statistics provided upon request.
  • [4] Canaries constitute 90 per cent of seized animals, most destined to be caged as ‘pets’. This is acontradiction in terms; a bird who is caged can hardly be ‘petted’, and the cage constructs both aphysical and a social distance.
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