Effectively Combating Wildlife Trafficking: An open debate in the European Parliament

Brussels, 28 June 2023 – European decision-makers, African delegations and NGOs met in the European Parliament on 27 June 2023 to discuss how to best combat wildlife trafficking, which is crucial to halting biodiversity loss.

The event, which was hosted by MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D Malta), had a strong focus on the EU’s Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking. Several topics were discussed including the need to prevent wildlife trafficking and address its root causes, the existing policy frameworks and regulations, the key role of local communities, as well as the importance of global partnerships.

MEP Alex Agius Saliba referred to the fact that illegal wildlife trade remains a serious and widespread problem, this is why action and greater awareness is needed. In his opening speech, he stated: “I am pleased that the European Union is taking initiatives to combat wildlife trafficking, as it has a key role to play. It is important to stress that legal and sustainable wildlife use and trade can contribute to the restoration of populations of endangered species by creating conservation incentives for local communities and private individuals. Local communities are affected at many levels by illegal wildlife trade and must continue to be recognised as essential partners in combatting wildlife trafficking”.

Within the EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking, there is recognition of the EU being an important hub for global wildlife trafficking. Additionally, the EU is globally well placed to help lead the fight against wildlife trafficking. This was stressed in the keynote speech by Mr. Jorge Rodriguez Romero, Head of Unit, Global Environmental Cooperation & Multilateralism, DG Environment, European Commission: “Illegal trade in species drives biodiversity loss, increases risks for public health and deprives local communities of legal and sustainable income. The recently adopted EU action plan against wildlife trafficking aims to provide a comprehensive framework for stepping up efforts to combat the illegal trade in wildlife, both in the EU and globally. Local communities have a key role to play in management and conservation of wildlife and their active engagement is essential to effectively fight against the illegal wildlife trade”.

A wide range of strategies for combatting wildlife trafficking and poaching were cited during the event. The African delegations present highlighted the existing initiatives already in place. There was recognition of the need to implement initiatives within the EU and beyond which support livelihoods and incentivise local communities to support and value wildlife conservation.

The sustainable use of wildlife was cited on several occasions as an important means to encourage locally supported conservation efforts. Nature-based tourism, well-managed hunting, and sustainable trade in wildlife were highlighted as being important to support conservation and to finance anti-poaching operations.

Referring to existing conservation efforts in place in Tanzania, H.E Jestas Abouk Nyamanga, Ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania to EU, stated that: “Sustainable hunting gives life to the community and is a key pillar for sustainable conservation.” At the same time, he stressed the need to take science-based decisions while providing various examples of initiatives on the ground that deliver for communities and conservation.

The experiences from Botswana were underlined by Ms Tebatso Baleseng, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Botswana to the European Union. She referred to the counter-poaching operations in place set out in the national anti-poaching strategy, developed in 2018 and updated in 2022. She added that inter-agency committees meet weekly to share intelligence to plan and implement law enforcement operations.

The various initiatives and cross-cutting priorities of the mission of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) were presented by Mr Edward van Asch, ICCWC Coordinator for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The event was moderated by Mr Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes, Research Associate at University of Oxford, who stressed that: “To conserve biodiversity effectively, we need nuanced policies that distinguish between illegal wildlife harvesting and trafficking (which should be discouraged) and forms of use and trade that are legal and sustainable. This is especially true in the developing world, where the livelihoods and goodwill of many are tied to wildlife use. The revised EU Action Plan, appropriately applied, provides a very useful framework for achieving these nuanced goals”.

The ongoing fight to combat wildlife trafficking requires input from a range of stakeholders at the global level. It was clear that many African delegations, together with the EU and its Member States, have been working hard to combat wildlife trafficking. There is a continued need for further cooperation and collaboration, as well as a recognition of viable systems which deliver results for wildlife.

The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE), the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), Safari Club International (SCI), and the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) had the pleasure to help with the organisation of the event to give key stakeholders a voice in Europe’s capital city, Brussels.

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