Many Highland News readers will have been greatly upset by news of the slaughter of ‘Cecil’, a 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe who was shot, skinned and beheaded by an American trophy hunter after being lured away from a national park in Zimbabwe.
Despite mounting anger, if granted a license, imports of lion trophies into the European Union are only banned from three West African countries and there are increasing demands that due to declining populations the ban should be extended to Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Wildlife crime is the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The EU is a significant market and a transit route for illegal trade in animal trophies and is in a privileged position to control the trade.
Many illegal animal products are now worth more than their weight in gold. Present laws, prosecution and sentencing for wildlife trafficking are inadequate. In March 2013 in Ireland, two rhino horn dealers were fined just 500 euros each for illegally smuggling eight rhino horns, valued at an estimated 500,000 euros on the black market; a pitiful penalty for such a serious crime.
An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Interpol into the on-line ivory trade found that in the ten participating countries, auction sites were found to hold an estimated total volume of around 4,500 kilograms of ivory and a total value of approximately 1,450,000 euros over the two-week operation.
Tougher penalties, mandatory destruction of illegal products and better training of police and prosecutors are needed to combat trophy hunting and the organised criminal killing of rhinos, elephants and other wildlife for profit. If we don't take radical measures very quickly to stop these illegal practices, there will soon be no more of these beautiful and iconic animals living wild anywhere on earth.
Last year Labour MEPs voted in favour of a Resolution on wildlife crime calling for increased EU action to end the illegal trade in wildlife products both within and outside the EU.
Because trade in the products of wildlife crime is global, and demand is growing in Southeast Asia, MEPs urged the Commission to raise the issue in talks with the EU’s international partners and make it a priority when shaping EU aid policy. MEPs also believe the Commission must continue to raise the issue during exchanges with key countries including China, Vietnam and Thailand, and likewise in upcoming talks with the United States and the African Union.
EU member states must also be urged to harmonise their differing penalties for those found guilty of wildlife crime and make them commensurate with the seriousness of their crimes.
In adopting the resolution the European Parliament has shown a commitment to combating illegal wildlife trafficking and its support in the fight against the poachers. However, the real power lies with the individual EU Member States and the European Commission who must take on the recommendations of the European Parliament and ensure that they afford endangered species the protection which they deserve.