By Helen Barnett
Tens of thousands of rare and endangered wild animals are being traded in Europe as poor EU laws have allowed illegal poaching to thrive.
Prince William has joined a campaign for the EU “to get their house in order” and take a tougher stance on the illegal trade, which sees an average 2,500 wildlife products seized in the EU every year.
However, experts expect this figure is only the tip of the iceberg, estimating the seizures represent about 10 per cent or less of the total amount of illegal products being smuggled through Europe.
Their calculation means the real figure could be in excess of 25,000 every year.
Shocking figures released by wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation, show staggering numbers of tigers, rhinos, elephants and other endangered species are being illegally slaughtered in order to be used for high-value items such as medicine, food, or sold to be kept as PETS.
Ivory, rhino horn and tiger skins make up a large part of the trade.
Rhino horn is currently worth more by weight than gold, with the number of rhinos poached in South Africa rising from just 13 in 2007 to a sickening 1,215 last year.
There have also been 100,000 elephants killed across Africa in three years from 2010, representing one fifth of the wild population.
The charity is piling pressure on EU member states to impose an action plan with measurable targets to reduce the illegal trade.
Prince William, who is known for his passion for protecting wildlife, issued a call to arms for MEPs around Europe.
He said: “Our children should not live in a world without elephants, tigers, pangolins and rhinos. Enough is enough. We are not asking for your money.
"We are asking for your voice and your attention. We are asking you to join our side. It's time to choose between critically endangered species and the criminals who kill them for money.”
Gangs are flouting the varying rules in different member states allowing them to infiltrate the continent with sinister products, or export them to other countries.
Some have banned all ivory trading, although some still permit it in older pieces. In the last three months of 2014, 100 tusks were sold in France, mostly to Chinese buyers.
France have tightened up its measures but traders are able to dodge that ban on the export of ivory by instead sending it from Belgium.
In Britain, it is understood Border Force officers seized 2,800 illegal wildlife products between 2009 and 2014, including 1,165 ivory products and 1,682 tiger products.
Last month Border Force seized a case of more than 600 illegal live animals at Heathrow Airport including 165 critically endangered turquoise dwarf geckos from Tanzania.
Dr Patrick Omondi, of Kenya Wildlife Service, said: “Kenya has every reason to be proud of its conservation and wildlife law enforcement credentials, but we cannot save Africa’s wildlife from the ravages of illegal trade alone.
“Coordinated EU action is vital if illegal trade routes and markets are to be shut down.”
MEP Catherine Bearder, chair of MEPs for Wildlife, said the $19billion (£13billion) industry was the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
She added: “I and my fellow MEPs urge the commission to come forward with such a plan without delay.”