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EU: Top global importer of wildlife


Cambridge, UK/Gland, Switzerland – The European Union tops the list for major importer of many wild animal and plant products, including tropical timber, caviar, reptile skins and live reptiles, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The report, Opportunity or threat: The role of the European Union in the global wildlife trade, is the first ever analysis looking at the volume and scope of wildlife trade products imported into the EU.

“As EU membership has expanded, so has the size of the market and demand for wildlife products,” said Rob Parry-Jones, Head of TRAFFIC Europe.

“While much wildlife trade is legal, we cannot ignore the growing illegal trade stemming from the demand for exotic pets, timber and other wildlife products. This is a serious threat to the survival of species such as reptiles and sturgeons.”

Between 2003 and 2004, EU enforcement authorities made over 7,000 seizures of shipments without legal permits, totaling over 3.5 million specimens listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The legal trade of wildlife products into the EU alone was worth an estimated €93 billion in 2005. Wildlife products imported intto the EU include caviar from the Caspian, snakeskin handbags and shoes, rare reptiles as pets, as well as snooker cues made of ramin, a tropical hardwood tree from South-east Asia.

TRAFFIC estimates that from 2000–2005, 3.4 million lizards, 2.9 million crocodiles, and 3.4 million snake skins — all species listed under CITES — were imported into the EU, along with 300,000 live snakes for the pet trade.

During the same period, the EU imported 424 tonnes of sturgeon caviar — more than half of all global imports — and in 2004 alone, it imported more than 10 million cubic metres of tropical timber from Africa, South America and Asia, worth €1.2 billion.

According to WWF and TRAFFIC, well-regulated and legal trade can bring benefits to local people, local economies and conservation. For example, the EU imports 95 per cent of vicuña wool, providing significant income for 700,000 people in impoverished Andean communities. Vicuña is a wild relation of the llama that is sheared and its wool is exported under CITES rules from Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile. Sustainable development of the vicuña wool trade has been supported by Italy, Germany and the European Commission.

“The demand for wildlife products in the EU is having a huge impact on wildlife and people in all corners of the world,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme. “The EU has a key role in ensuring excessive demand does not cause over-exploitation of wildlife outside its borders and a responsibility to help countries manage their resources.”

More than 170 governments will meet in the Netherlands from 3–15 June for the triennial CITES Conference of the Parties, the first ever to be held in the EU.

WWF and TRAFFIC believe the EU should lead the way in providing external assistance to countries where wildlife products originate and ensure their trade is sustainable.


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