Brussels (dpa) - The European Union is seeking public advice on ways to curb illegal wildlife trafficking - a "multi-million-euro criminal business" which has been boosted by growing demand in Asia, the bloc‘s executive said Friday.
"Wildlife trafficking takes a terrible toll on biodiversity, and we need to find ways of taking more decisive action," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Last year, more than 1,000 rhinoceroses were poached in South Africa - up from 13 in 2007 - partly due to growing demand for rhino horn from Asian markets. The number of African elephants poached illegally, meanwhile, has doubled to 22,000 over the last decade.
The key factor behind the recent surge is "increasing demand for wildlife products, notably from Asia, which has driven up prices steeply," said the commission, citing China and Vietnam as major destinations for ivory and rhino horn respectively.
The EU is also a destination and an important transit point for the trade, which "increasingly resembles trafficking in human beings, drugs and firearms," according to the bloc‘s executive.
The EU is seeking advice from government experts, advocacy groups, civil society and the private sector, on topics including tools to fight trafficking, how the EU in particular can help, and whether stronger criminal sanctions would work.
The business creates "large profits for international organized crime groups," said Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
"Militia groups are involved in the trafficking in central Africa, and the profits they make fuel conflicts in the region," Potocnik added.
The EU has strict rules for trading in endangered species and supports developing countries in their fight against trafficking.
Nonetheless, wildlife crime prosecutions are still rare, the commission said.
"Criminals are making the most of weak enforcement, low-level sanctions and the low priority given to the issue in many countries," Potocnik said.