WWF Italy publishes their national report on wildlife crime: poaching and illegal fishing  

On the occasion of World Wildlife Day, the association inaugurates the awareness week #STOPCRIMINIDINATURA – #STOPWILDLIFECRIME.

The key findings of the report include lack of databases, strict rules, and controls, the fundamental role of animal recovery centres, and Lombardy as the first region for reported offences.

Italy is a key crossroads for the trafficking of protected species and wildlife crimes in general. The sanctions imposed by the Carabinieri CITES related to the trade in protected species amounted to over 5,5 million Euros in 2018 (over a million in 2020). In terms of illegal actions against wildlife, between 2016 and 2019 the region in which the most illegal complaints were reported is Lombardy with 5,256 complaints, followed by Veneto (2,526) and Tuscany (2,247).

This is what WWF denounces with the report “THE INVISIBLE DAMAGE OF NATURE CRIMES: ANALYSIS AND PROPOSALS OF WWF ITALY”, the first of a series of national reports, as a result of the SWiPE project B2 action. The Italian report was released on the eve of a given symbol for wildlife – the UN World Wildlife Day. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the wildlife crimes that threatens biodiversity in Italy and the intertwining with the illegal international trafficking of protected species.

The launch opens the WWF Italy’s awareness week against wildlife crimes that will last until March 8. Stories, insights, quizzes, video clips and Ecotips about to how to help in the fight against such crimes will be shared in all WWF Italy social media channels.

Poaching and illegal trade

Customs are often behind poaching and illegal trade, as the traditional dish polenta and osei (wild passerine birds) from Veneto, Lombardy. But not only terrestrial fauna is affected: eels, holothurians, date mussels, and some species of sharks are also particularly affected. According to data from the Harbour offices – Coast Guard related to illegal fishing, the number of inspections in recent years has been around 110 to 140 thousand with sanctions going from 7 to over 12 million € with a peak of over 760 tons of fish seized in 2016.

The role of Recovery Centers

Alarming data also come from CRAS – the wildlife recovery centers managed by the WWF: only in Lombardy the “animal hospitals” of Valpredina and Vanzago centers welcomed and cared for about 7,500 animals in 2021. At the CRAS of Valpredina 6 admissions out of 10 each year, on average, have to do with wildlife crimes, being more than 50% of the animals protected species, of which about 36% are strictly protected, led by birds of prey.

Lack of data bases and monitoring

All this happens “secretly” while Italy faces a serious shortage in terms of monitoring and “knowledge” of the phenomenon. There is no centralized database on crimes against nature nor any monitoring of the phenomenon, despite the fact that Italy has a National Antipoaching Action Plan (adopted five years ago to respond to EU requests to improve law enforcement actions).

Inexistent databases and monitoring, together with a completely inadequate supervisory system (on average 3 hunting agents per 1000 hunters) and insufficient sanctions, compromise the ability to take appropriate preventive and planning measures.

In practical terms, whoever kills a protected species like a bear, a wolf or an eagle can easily make their crime disappear from their criminal record through a payment as small as 1,000€. Unluckily, whoever kills, places on the market, or holds wild animals illegally, risks very low penalties.

Species affected by wildlife crime in Italy

According to the WWF -SWiPE Report, the main streams of illegal trafficking of protected species involve Italy/United States. In most cases, affected species are reptiles. Birds are the most threatened species in Italy by wildlife criminals, in particular, passerines such as goldfinches (illegally marketed for ornamental purposes) or finches, robins, and other small birds. Finally, raptors that are often victims of gunshots or poisonings, as well as large carnivores, led by wolves, considered “problematic species” or “harmful”. This happens also because of the derisory sanctions previewed regarding the illicit gains generated from these offences.

Lack of control

One of the main problems in Italy is the reduced number of staff assigned to the control. Two thirds of the agents assigned to the supervision of these crimes are voluntary. Police staff are not enough and unevenly distributed across the country. As a result, the vigilance of the WWF Voluntary Guards is essential to support the State in the fight against illegalities. Only in the 5 months of the 2021-22 hunting season the WWF Guards of Campania rescued 120 animals, transmitted to the authorities 97 criminal violations, carried out 77 seizures and 25 administrative violations, for a total of 172 reports to the authorities.

When it comes to sea fauna, the report shows that the most trafficked species are eels along with sharks or date mussels, whose trade, often managed by criminal organizations, yields huge illicit gains, as demonstrated by recent operations. The sanctions imposed by the Coast Guard in recent years are between 15,000 and 30,000€.

WWF Italy concludes with an appeal to Government and Parliament “for more intensive measures and more effective tools to combat environmental illegality”:

  • creation of regional databases (only 5 regions show reliable data)
  • coordination between institutions
  • increasing controls
  • strengthening sanctions

These changes are the most urgent ones in order to give practical effect to the needs of protecting the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, which have become constitutionally recognised fundamental principles. Accepting the status quo would mean allowing criminals to continue doing business by increasingly impoverishing nature. And with it all of us.

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