EU market threat to wildlife species

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THE European single market, and consumers' appetite for pets, fur coats, crocodile-skin handbags and exotic plants and products, is inflicting serious damage on the world's wildlife, according to a report published yesterday.

Despite its relatively small share of the world's population, Europe is the largest or second- largest market for a range of wildlife products, including live parrots, monkeys, apes and wild cats and the skins of alligators, caymans, crocodiles and cats, the report, from the World Wide Fund for Nature and a wildlife monitoring group, Traffic, says.

Between 1988 and 1991, the European Union was the biggest importer of live parrots, lories and cockatoos, accounting for more than 975,000, or 39 per cent, of the legal world trade, and of alligator, cayman and crocodile skins - more than 974,000 or 42 per cent of world trade. It also imported 3.86 million monitor lizard skins, more than any other trading bloc.

It was the second largest importer, after the United States, of live cats - more than 1,000 out of 4,662 - and of live primates - 46,000 out of 178,000 traded. It also brought in 105,640 of the 407,605 cat skins traded world- wide, putting it second behind Japan.

Other wildlife products imported to Europe between 1988 and 1991 include live chameleons (29,519, or 20 per cent of world trade), poison arrow frogs (3,114 - 36 per cent), corals (654,670) and more than 61 million snowdrop, winter daffodil and cyclamen bulbs, most exported from Turkey, where they are disappearing from the wild.

Although the trade is nominally legal, the species are all listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Conservationists argue that the abolition of internal border controls after the establishment of the single market last year, and looser regulation that resulted, mean thousands of birds, animals and plants listed in the totals may have been illegally taken from the wild.

The market also damages conservation in developing countries and fuels illegal trade, estimated at 25 per cent of the legal market.

The report says European ports of entry are notoriously lax, member states do not share information or co-ordinate enforcement sufficiently, some states have inadequate laws and penalties and wildlife shipments may be 'lost' once they are inside Europe.