Europol and law enforcement agencies across the EU have conducted the biggest ever international operation against the illegal wildlife trade. Operation COBRA III led to the recovery of over 12 tonnes of elephant ivory and at least 119 rhino horns, and saw the participation of law enforcement teams and agencies from 62 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America.
Seizures inside the EU included 10,000 dead seahorses and 400 live turtles/tortoises in the UK, 50 kg of animal parts (including heads and horns) in Spain, 500 kg of frozen eel in Poland, 16 whale ribs in the Netherlands and 50 kg of raw ivory in France.
In addition, 100 000 pills of traditional Asian medicine were confiscated. Several individuals have been arrested and investigations are continuing in many countries.
The illegal trafficking of endangered species remains a problem in the EU and beyond.
The EU is a destination, source and transit region for trafficking in endangered species, which involves live and dead specimens of wild fauna and flora, or parts of products made from them.
Elephants and rhinos are mainly poached in Africa and India. Their tusks and horns are in high demand by customers, particularly in South-East Asia, where there is a long ivory carving tradition.
Powdered rhino horn, like many other animal and plant based powders, is used in non-evidence based traditional Asian medicine. Sales generate significant profits for the organised crime groups involved.
British MEP Catherine Bearder is founder of the MEPs for Wildlife group in the European Parliament which is pushing for an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Crime.
The MEPs for Wildlife Group, formed by one MEP from each of the 7 main political groups and launched in February 2015, is calling for an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Crime that would include:
– A permanent fund to boost efforts to take on poachers.
– A new Wildlife Crime Unit in the EU’s crime-fighting agency Europol.
– Tougher penalties across Europe for wildlife criminals.
Bearder commented “I would like to congratulate law enforcement agencies across Europe, who have shown what can be achieved when countries work together in the fight against wildlife crime.
“This sends a clear message to those involved in the illegal wildlife trade that they will face the full force of the law. “It is important that the judiciary now hands down sentences that match the gravity of these crimes. “There must also be coordinated efforts across the EU to crack down on the organised crime bosses running this cruel trade, not just the smugglers on the ground.”
By Martin Banks