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European Parliament Resolves to Get Tough on Wildlife Crime [VIDEO]

Jan 15, 2014 03:44 PM EST

A resolution by the European Parliament calls for tougher penalties for wildlife crimes and more training for law enforcement officials to combat the trafficking of illegal items such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.

In a resoundingly affirmative vote Wednesday afternoon, the parliament also called for a mandatory destruction of illegal ivory stockpiles, a symbolic move made by a number of countries recently, including China and the US.

The non-binding resolution passed at 647 votes to 14, with no abstentions.

"If we don't take radical measures very quickly to stop these illegal practices, there will soon be no more of these iconic animals living wild anywhere on earth. We must treat this slaughter as organized crime, just like the illegal drug trade," said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, the Dutch politician who drafted the resolution.

The resolution was praised by wildlife conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the wildlife crime monitoring network TRAFFIC, which both said they strongly support Wednesday's resolution.

"The Parliament has laid down a very strong position to stop illegal wildlife products coming into Europe and now Member States cannot ignore the fact that every year tonnes of wildlife plants and animals illegally cross their borders," said Tony Long, Director at WWF's European Policy Office.

"Every time a rhino is killed in Africa, its horn could be transiting Europe to reach Vietnam inside 48 hours. European, African and Asian countries must act together to stop such illegal activity," he said.

As the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, wildlife crime is part of an enormous $19 billion worldwide criminal enterprise, falling only behind drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking, the European Parliament said in a news release.

"Rhino horn is more expensive than cocaine and gold; yet at the same time, it is easy to smuggle, the risk of detection is very low, and sanctions, if imposed, are often not sufficient to act as a deterrent", the European Parliament's environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.

The resolution is considered to be a precursor to a future proposal by the European Commission.

"We also expect the European Commission to follow the Parliaments' Resolution in their upcoming Communication on illegal trade and work together with Members States and other international partners to tackle this crime effectively," said Long, referring to a conference scheduled for April in Brussels, where the European Commission is expected to release a new set of guidelines illegal wildlife trade.

"The European Parliament has sent a strong message to the 28 Member States and to the EU Commission to take wildlife crime seriously and treat it as they would any serious crime," said Stephanie von Meibom, Director of TRAFFIC in Europe.

"They have established a mandate for better equipped police and border customs officers, higher consistent penalties for traffickers across the EU, and better collaboration and communication among Member States to protect wildlife and stop criminal trade. It is imperative that all Members States live up to their responsibilities to police the wildlife trade: any point of weakness will be targeted by those determined to circumvent the law," she added.

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