WWF releases national report on wildlife crime, says the level of sanctions is too low

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Romania still has an important natural heritage, both at national and European Union level, of which it has been a member since 2007. As part of the EU, but also as a signatory to international conventions, Romania must ensure the protection of its natural heritage, including by combating crimes against wildlife (WLC) and illegal trade in their products or specimens. At European level, the protection of wildlife is ensured by Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (“Habitats Directive”) and Directive 2009/147/EEC of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (“Birds Directive”) and at international level, legal protection, in particular of trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, has been regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES or the Washington Convention), an international intergovernmental agreement that entered into force in 1975.
World Wild Fund Romania (WWF) has released a report to provide a comprehensive picture of wildlife crime at the national level, through an assessment of the WLC for different species and different types of crime and misdemeanours. The sources of data and information used in this report were represented by the databases of judicial institutions (courts, tribunals and courts of appeal), Romanian prosecutor’s offices, institutions empowered to enforce environmental illegalities and semistructured interviews that focused on obtaining information on the institutional challenges facing the authorities with responsibilities in the field, from the discovery of the WLC to the issuance of criminal judgments, where appropriate.
The data collected covered the period 20152020 and mainly covered poaching activities, illegal killing for sport, control of predators/pests and retaliation, illegal capture, including for pets, illegal egg collection, marketing (the entire part of the chain including transport, trafficking, sale, possession, consumption, financing of such activities; species laundering), nonselective trapping and killing that knowingly endangers protected species, such as poison bait, nonselective andillegal nets, nonselective traps, trapping and/or injury.

Although  optional, in Romania the following were also considered: illegal killing of an unprotected species by law, illegal fishing of an unprotected species, during the prohibition period or without a fishing permit because the number and damage to ecosystems in general, as well as the number of such cases has been considerably higher than the ones covered by the Swipe project. Also, most of the data, especially
those related to contraventions, were transmitted in an aggregate format, either by law or by years, which made it difficult to determine the species and sometimes the nature of the crimes to which they relate.
With regard to protected species and those listed in the CITES Annexes, 18 cases, that entered to court, were recorded with a total of 20 species involved in criminal activity during the study period, totalling 1281 specimens, with the most affected being Misgurnus fossilis (weatherfish), Raja clavate (sea fox), Acipenser ruthenus (sterlet), Cetacea fam. Delphinidae & Phocoenidae, Squalus acanthias (picked dogfish) and Ursus arctos (brown bear). Except in a case where there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the suspect committed the act, where the court ordered the seizure of the fishing tools, in 16 cases the court handed down convictions, and in 2 cases the defendants were acquitted.

In terms of contraventions, 7 cases involving 5 species (Agave potatorum, Agave himeson, Panthera pardus, Giraffa camelopardalis and Oryx sp.) and specimens from 5 families and one genus: Chamaeleonidae, Acipenseridae, Elephantidae, Psittacidae, Ursidae and respectively Diospyros. There was no information on the application of a penalty in these cases, but all the goods were seized by the authorities. However, there have been many more cases of WLC that have affected unprotected species. In the project database, 606 cases were registered that affected species such as: Capreolus capreolus (roe deer), Sus scrofa (wild boar), Lepus europaeus (hares) but also many fish species, not specified in criminal case documents. 544 convictions have been handed down, 13 acquittals, 17 trials are still pending, 11 cases in which the prison sentence has been replaced by a fine, in one case the court has declined jurisdiction and in 20 cases there is no information about the
status of the procedure.

The NGO says that the case law practically does not identify illegal activities against strictly protected bird species (only one case was identified between 2015 and 2020), which indicates the lack of a system for monitoring / ascertaining such acts, rather than their actual nonexistence.
Many acts, although illegal and of a high degree of danger, remain unpunished. Even if an exact assignment regarding WLC was not possible, the number of cases that did not reach the court is very high (approximately 7200 for laws 407/2006 hunting law, GEO 23/2008 fishing law and GEO 57/2007 protected areas and species law, in 82.4% of the prosecutor’s offices in Romania), with the files for which a solution was given for filing or waiving the criminal investigation being 10 times more than those sent to court. One possible cause of this situation is the fact that certain illegal activities and/or acts are dealt with summarily, disparately and unevenly, in various regulatory acts, which makes it difficult to correctly apply the provisions and, consequently, leads to a lack of sanctioning or inadequate sanctioning of those involved in committing illegal acts.
“From the semistructured interviews conducted with control authorities, but also with prosecutors and judges, it emerged that the level of sanctions is too low to have the effect of discouraging illegal activities. Also, the population and the judiciary (prosecutors, judges) generally consider that environmental crimes are not so serious, in the sense that they do not directly affect people, and therefore it is not necessary to stop them and punish the perpetrators. There is no national, public database on the number of actions carried out in the WLC field by law enforcement agencies and on the number of crimes and misdemeanours, respectively, therefore the extent of this phenomenon in Romania is difficult to assess.
Departments specialised in environmental crime within the law enforcement authorities but also in judicial bodies are very few (only within the Romanian Police) which reduces the efficiency of investigating environmental crime cases.
There is no practice of collaboration between courts and experts or specialists in biology and/or ecology to explain and highlight the real impact of the WLC. Sometimes there is a problem with species identification, especially if they are exotic or are not currently part of the hunted ones.
Sometimes it would be necessary to strengthen the collaboration between the authorities because, despite the existence of official protocols, there are cases where they do not work optimally,” WWF Romania argued.

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