The European Commission has adopted measures to control wildlife trade that come into force on 5th February 2015.
The first measure concerns the import of hunting trophies and is designed to ensure that any such imports are legal and sustainable. The species concerned are African lion, polar bear, African elephant, Southern white rhinoceros, hippopotamus and argali sheep.
Trophy hunting is a widespread practice and, when managed sustainably, it can help conserve species and generate income that benefits rural communities while protecting biodiversity.Nevertheless, there has been great concern about the trade in hunting trophies from lions, polar bears, elephants and rhinoceroses. Criminal groups are increasingly involved, and wildlife trafficking has become a form of transnational organised crime that resembles trafficking in human beings, drugs and firearms.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries said: "The hunting of iconic species is a very sensitive area and one where Europe needs to lead at international level to promote responsible practices. I am confident that today's Regulation takes an important stand against illegal and unsustainable hunting of these precious species. These steps are an important contribution to keeping the trade legal and safe."
In the past, there was no systematic scrutiny by scientific authorities in the Member States to ensure that trophies from these species imported to the EU were the result of sustainable hunting. For example, the system was abused by criminal gangs to import rhino horns as hunting trophies which were then fraudulently exported to Vietnam.
The new measures address these problems by introducing a requirement for an import permit guaranteeing that the origin of the trophy is legal and sustainable. The permit will only be delivered once the EU is convinced that the import meets criteria demonstrating that it is sustainable. If the criteria are not met, the import will be banned.
The Commission has also introduced new measures to facilitate travel for musicians using instruments that contain items derived from species protected under the CITES Convention. Today, musicians often need to obtain CITES permits each time they cross a border to ensure that they can travel with such instruments. The new measures create a specific certificate which can be used for multiple cross-border movements and is valid for three years.
While it difficult to provide a precise figure as to the scale of wildlife trafficking, it has grown in recent years to become a multi-million euro criminal business affecting numerous species all over the world. Ivory, rhino horn, tiger products, tropical timber and shark fins are among the most valuable wildlife products found on the black market.
According to Europol's threat assessment on environmental crime, organized criminal groups are increasingly targeting the wildlife trade, using corruption, money laundering and forged documents to facilitate their trafficking activities. Public health is also at risk, as animals are smuggled into the EU outside of any sanitary control.
The EU represents a considerable market for wildlife products. A comprehensive regulatory framework – the CITES Convention and additional stricter measures – is in place to ensure that trade in such products is sustainable. The framework is regularly reviewed to fit the changing patterns of trade in wildlife products, and these new measures are an example of one such review.
In February 2014 the Commission adopted a Communication on the EU approach to wildlife trafficking, seeking feedback from stakeholders on the relevance for the EU to step up its efforts in that field. The results of this consultation were published in November 2014. The European Commission is now in the process of assessing the added-value, possible form and content of a future EU strategic approach against wildlife trafficking.
In addition to these specific measures on hunting trophies, the new measures also make it clear that permits should not be issued by EU Member States in cases where no satisfactory information has been obtained from the exporting or re-exporting country regarding the legality of wildlife products to be imported and subject to the CITES Convention and Regulation 338/97. This will create a solid basis for Member States to act when they deal with shipments whose legality is subject in doubt.
More information on the EU wildlife trade rules can be found on the Commission's CITES webpage: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/home_en.htm