EU is world's top importer of wildlife

Posted: 31 May 2007

The huge scale of wildlife imports into the European Union is revealed for the first time in a report which shows that the EU is the biggest global importer of many wildlife products, including tropical timber, caviar and live birds.

Snakeskin
Snakeskin
The EU is a major importer of reptile skins as well as livereptiles for the pet trade. Photo © WWF/Rob WEBSTER
The report, by WWF and TRAFFIC, is the first to look at the volume and scope of wildlife trade products imported into the EU. It is published as more than 170 governments prepare to discuss an international agreement that regulates global wildlife trade - 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. TRAFFIC estimates that between 2000 and 2005, 3.4 million lizard, 2.9 million crocodile and 3.4 million snake skins, 300,000 live snakes and 4.7 million live birds were imported into the EU.

Caviar
Caviar
The EU is responsible for more than half the world's imports of sturgeon caviar. Photo © WWF
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.

"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."

Tortoises and turtles

Blue macaws
Blue macaws
Blue macaws. Between 2000 and 2005, the EU imported 4.7 million live birds. Photo © WWF
The UK was responsible for almost a third of the EU's imports of big-leaf mahogany and around ten per cent of their total imports of live tortoises and turtles. Almost five per cent of the EU's imports of amphibians and four per cent of lizards and snakes come into the UK.

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 the global market in 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.

"The demand for wildlife products in the EU is having a huge impact on wildlife and people in all corners of the world," said Mark Wright, chief scientist at WWF-UK. "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."

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).

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.

The report, Opportunity or threat: The role of the European Union in the global wildlife trade, was published on May 31 by WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. To read the report, go here. To see a video about the report visit www.thenewsmarket.com/wwf.

Governments will meet in the Netherlands from 3-15 June for the triennial CITES Conference of the Parties - an international agreement that regulates global wildlife trade. It is the first time the meeting has been held in the EU.