EU to tackle wildlife trafficking helping fund extremists

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has unveiled a series of measures it hopes will tackle a surge in wildlife trafficking, which has helped fund extremist and militia groups, particularly in Africa.

The EU estimates that the illicit trade nets up to 20 billion euros ($22 billion) each year, and threatens the survival in the wild of elephants, rhinoceroses, lions and gorillas. Somalia’s al-Shabab, Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and Sudanese armed groups have been implicated in the illicit ivory trade.

“Some 30,000 elephants are still being killed illegally every year and at this rate a child who is born today will probably see the last of the wild elephants and rhinos die before his 25th birthday,” Karmenu Vella, the EU’s commissioner for environment affairs, said Friday.

The EU says around 1,000 rangers are believed to have been killed in anti-poaching operations around the world over the past decade.

The EU’s 5-year plan aims to prevent trafficking, reduce supply and demand for illegal products, toughen existing laws, combat organized crime and boost cooperation between countries.

Ivory, rhino horn, tiger products, tropical timber and exotic birds are among the most valuable wildlife products on the black market. Live reptiles including tortoises, snakes and iguanas are regularly seized at EU borders, as are live plants like orchids and cactus.

Animal rights groups welcomed the plan.

Sonja Van Tichelen, European Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said wildlife crime has reached “unprecedented levels” and noted, among other things, that an elephant is being killed for its ivory every 15 minutes.

“Immediate and concerted action is needed,” she said.

The group says the EU acts as a market, transit route and source for the illegal wildlife trade, and accounts for around a third of all ivory seizures worldwide, with Belgium, Britain, France and Portugal being important transit routes.