How The E.U. Can Reduce Wildlife Trafficking
As a major destination for smuggled wildlife, the E.U. has the potential to make policy interventions that could significantly slow wildlife trafficking. This report, the third in a series by the German wildlife advocacy organization Pro Wildlife, identifies gaps in E.U. and international law that undermine the conservation efforts of often under-resourced countries, and describes how legal changes could improve this status quo.
The challenges of preventing wildlife trafficking are particularly acute with reptiles and amphibians. These animals are easy to smuggle, often survive long periods of captivity, and can sell for hundreds or thousands of euros. National and international registries of trade-restricted species are often slow to list newly described or endangered species. Even when species are listed in registries, traders can capture them right before they reproduce, allowing their offspring to be legally sold as captive-bred. And many countries that are home to endangered species (“range states”) do not have the resources to enforce strong wildlife trafficking protections themselves.
The major international agreement regulating wildlife trafficking is CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This 1973 treaty now boasts 183 member countries that have agreed to enforce restrictions on the export of protected species. To do this, CITES maintains three lists, called Appendices I, II, and III, that list species with varying levels of protection.
However, CITES has several limitations. Because its governing body meets only every two to three years, the list of protected species often lags behind the latest scientific data, allowing traffickers to capture and sell newly-identified or endangered species without penalty. The scope of species protected by CITES is often much more limited than the species protected by the national laws of range states. Over three quarters of reptile and amphibian species in the European exotic pet trade are not listed.
The E.U. has advocated for increased usage of CITES Appendix III, which allows individual treaty signatories to add newly threatened species unilaterally, though not with the same protections afforded to species on Appendices I and II. While this is a good partial measure, this report argues that it unfairly shifts responsibility to range states that often lack the resources to create and maintain exhaustive lists of threatened species.
The authors of the report advocate that the best solution is instead for the E.U. to criminalize the trade and possession of wildlife illegally exported from its country of origin. Such a law would create legal consequences for smugglers not only in range states when they capture protected animals, but in the E.U. when they attempt to transport and sell them.
The U.S. Lacey Act provides a useful model. This law, adopted in 1900, prohibits the import, transport, sale, or possession of species that were illegally caught, transported, or exported in their country of origin. Adopting an “E.U. Lacey Act” has been advocated for by resolutions of the United Nations and European Parliament, and would allow the E.U. to support the conservation efforts of range states.
Pro Wildlife’s reports in this series also give country-by-country case studies of how threatened reptiles and amphibians, despite being protected by national laws, are often traded without legal consequence in the E.U. For animal advocates, these reports give insight into the limitations of national and international legal frameworks for preventing wildlife trafficking, and suggest strategies that would make them more effective.