Noah’s Ark of animal treasures seized at UK border

Grant Miller, CITES lead at Border Force, holding a tiger pelt  which was uncovered during Operation Cobra 3, a six-week global operation to prevent the illegal movement of endangered species across international borders at Custom House at Heathrow Airport
Grant Miller, CITES lead at Border Force, holding a tiger pelt which was uncovered during Operation Cobra 3, a six-week global operation to prevent the illegal movement of endangered species across international borders at Custom House at Heathrow Airport
0
Have your say

IT is a chilling list of shame, and includes a polar bear skin in luggage, hundreds of tortoises, scorpions sent in the post and even a chameleon hidden in a handbag.

There were also 166 turquoise blue geckos, 10,000 sea horses, 11 black bear claws, and 57 ivory products.

They were all uncovered in a six week worldwide operation to tackle the illegal and barbaric trade of endangered plants and animals.

The UK Border Force seizures included ivory tusks, bear claws and 400 live tortoises in the operation which saw 62 countries work together to prevent the illegal movement of endangered species across international borders.

More than 300 different animals and plants and their derivatives were seized by Border Force and police at UK airports and ports as they worked on Operation Cobra 3, which resulted in 28 police investigations.

Grant Miller, Border Force’s head of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), said the UK is an important logistical transit hub for criminal gangs and smugglers of products from endangered animals, including ivory from critically-at-risk rhinos in Africa.

However, many of the seizures are from individuals who do not have the right documentation to own their protected pet, or are ignorant of the rules.

Mr Miller said: “We have to recognise there is a perfectly legal wildlife trade. Our job is to find the criminality within that – where people do not comply with the regulations, from getting the permits to the organised criminals who will take critically endangered iguanas and put them into socks and hide them in suitcases.

“It’s all levels that we need to tackle to ensure the supply chain of animals and their derivatives being moved around the world so plants and animals are preserved for future generations.

“We must do something to control this barbaric trade. It’s not just iconic species like rhinos and elephants but the frogs, the reptiles, the tortoises, the plants, the timbers, the great forests.

“It’s a fight – every single day we find something different. We’ve had tortoises in cigarette packets, poisonous snakes within parcels in the post, insects, scorpions in the post fairly regularly.”

Western health supplements and herbal products are a new focus for Border Force, because of their increasing use of endangered plants.

Tim Luffman, from the Cites team, whose role includes checking daily shipments for illegal wildlife, said: “Quite often, passengers who are travelling with a pet may not realise what they’re doing is smuggling an illegal animal.

“While it may be someone’s pet, it’s still an endangered species and we wouldn’t know if this has been illegally taken from the wild as opposed to being born in captivity and without the right documentation it results in the animal being seized.”