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Environmental Crime Threatens Europe's Last Pristine Forests and Iconic Wildlife

23 November 2017
by WWF -- last modified 23 November 2017

A new UN report warns that illegal logging, illegal caviar trade, mass-killing of wild birds and poaching of bears, wolves and lynx threaten biodiversity and livelihoods in the Danube-Carpathian region stretching over 15 European countries.


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The Danube-Carpathian region, located in Central and Eastern Europe and known as the Green Heart of Europe for its natural treasures, is under high pressure from environmental crime warn the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and Eurac Research.

Illegal logging and wildlife trade threaten the region’s biodiversity and people’s livelihoods despite European and international environmental legislation. The EU single market adds additional challenges to control illegal wildlife trade that moves freely between 28 member countries.

Illegal logging of timber continues to destroy some of Europe’s last remaining virgin forests, a considerable part protected as UNESCO World Heritage. While estimates vary across the region, satellite images and wide-ranging reports by e.g. Romanian forest district managers highlight illegal logging as one the most significant threats to sustainability.

The Carpathian forests are home to Europe’s largest remaining populations of brown bears, wolves and lynx, which despite being protected by EU and international laws and conventions, are frequently exposed to poaching.

The Danube river basin also sustains Europe’s last remaining viable populations of sturgeons. Illegally harvested caviar (sturgeon roe) reaches prices of up to 6,000 euros per kilogram on the black market – a trade worth at least 22 million euros per year to the EU. Already, one of the Danube sturgeon species has gone extinct and four are critically endangered and reported to be decreasing.

Illegal harvesting of wild birds is a little noticed wildlife crime in the region. However, 11-36 million birds are taken/killed illegally in the Mediterranean every year. In Serbia, for instance an estimated 104,000-163,000 individuals are being illegally killed/taken each year. These numbers are increasing. The birds are sold in restaurants in places like Italy and Malta.

“The looting of these natural resources undermines development and deprives governments of the money they need to promote jobs, education and health services”, said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. “These resources should rather be a solid foundation for future generations”, he added.

“Europe’s last remaining old-growth forests and their biodiversity are disappearing at alarming rates”, said Marco Lambertini, Director General, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International. “The Danube river, here in the heart of Europe, host the sturgeon, one of the most ancient and endangered fish species in the World. The illegal caviar trade will wipe out this species unless action is taken to prevent it.”

In order to combat wildlife crime and illegal logging, the authors of the study recommend stepping up inter-agency collaboration within countries and cooperation between the states of the region on data sharing and law enforcement. To that aim, law enforcement agencies have to be better resourced and prosecution and jurisdiction trained to increase probability of cases to be brought before court and to result in relevant penalties. The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking issued in 2016 is also in need of a strong implementation push at EU and national level.

The European Policy Office helps shape EU policies that impact on the European and global environment.

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